COMT Val(158)Met Genotype Selectively Alters Prefrontal [F-18]Fallypride Displacement and Subjective Feelings of Stress in Response to a Psychosocial Stress Challenge

Dennis Hernaus, Dina Collip, Johan Lataster, Jenny Ceccarini, Gunther Kenis, Linda Booij, Jens Pruessner, Koen Van Laere, Ruud van Winkel, Jim van Os, Inez Myin-Germeys*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) plays an essential role in degradation of extracellular dopamine in prefrontal regions of the brain. Although a polymorphism in this gene, COMT Val(158)Met, affects human behavior in response to stress little is known about its effect on dopaminergic activity associated with the human stress response, which may be of interest for stress-related psychiatric disorders such as psychosis. We aimed to investigate the effect of variations in COMT genotype on in vivo measures of stress-induced prefrontal cortex (PFC) dopaminergic processing and subjective stress responses. A combined sample of healthy controls and healthy first-degree relatives of psychosis patients (n = 26) were subjected to an [F-18] fallypride Positron Emission Tomography scan. Psychosocial stress during the scan was induced using the Montreal Imaging Stress Task and subjective stress was assessed every 12 minutes. Parametric t-maps, generated using the linear extension of the simplified reference region model, revealed an effect of COMT genotype on the spatial extent of [F-18] fallypride displacement. Detected effects of exposure to psychosocial stress were unilateral and remained restricted to the left superior and right inferior frontal gyrus, with Met-hetero- and homozygotes showing less [F-18] fallypride displacement than Val-homozygotes. Additionally, Met-hetero- and homozygotes experienced larger subjective stress responses than Val-homozygotes. The direction of the effects remained the same when the data was analyzed separately for controls and first-degree relatives. The human stress response may be mediated in part by COMT-dependent dopaminergic PFC activity, providing speculation for the neurobiology underlying COMT-dependent differences in human behaviour following stress. Implications of these results for stress-related psychopathology and models of dopaminergic functioning are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere65662
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2013

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