, Volume 230, Issue 4, pp 653-662
Date: 05 Jul 2013

Association of abstinence-induced alterations in working memory function and COMT genotype in smokers

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Abstract

Rationale

The common methionine (met) for valine (val) at codon 158 (val158met) polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene has been associated with nicotine dependence, alterations in executive cognitive function, and abstinence-induced working memory deficits in smokers.

Objectives

We sought to replicate the association of the COMT val allele with abstinence-induced alterations in working memory-related activity in task-positive (executive control) and task-negative (default mode network) regions.

Methods

Forty smokers (20 val/val and 20 met/met) performed an N-back task while undergoing blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on two separate occasions: following 72 h of confirmed abstinence and during smoking as usual. An independent sample of 48 smokers who completed the identical N-back task during fMRI in smoking vs. abstinence for another study was used as a validation sample.

Results

Contrary to expectations, genotype by session interactions on BOLD signal in executive control regions (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal cingulate/medial prefrontal cortex) revealed significant abstinence-induced reductions in the met/met group, but not the val/val group. Results also revealed that val/val smokers may exhibit less suppression of activation in task-negative regions such as the posterior cingulate cortex during abstinence (vs. smoking). These patterns were confirmed in the validation sample and in the whole-brain analysis, though the regions differed from the a priori regions of interest (ROIs) (e.g., precuneus, insula).

Conclusions

The COMT val158met polymorphism was associated with abstinence-related working memory deficits in two independent samples of smokers. However, inconsistencies compared to prior findings and across methods (ROI vs. whole-brain analysis) highlight the challenges inherent in reproducing results of imaging genetic studies in addiction.