, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 533-539

COMT Gene Polymorphism Is Associated with Declarative Memory in Adulthood and Old Age

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Variation in memory performance is to a large extent explained by genes. In the prefrontal cortex, the catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is essential in the metabolic degradation of dopamine, a neurotransmitter implicated in cognitive functions. The present study examined the effect of a polymorphism in the COMT gene on individual differences and changes in memory in adulthood and old age. Tests assessing episodic and semantic memory were administered to 286 men (initially aged 35–85 years) from a random sample of the population (i.e., the Betula prospective cohort study) at two occasions followed over a 5-year period. Carriers of the Met/Met genotype (with low enzyme activity) performed better on episodic and semantic memory, as compared to carriers of the Val allele (with higher enzyme activity). Division of episodic memory into its recall and recognition components showed that the difference was specific to episodic recall, not recognition tasks; an effect that was observed across three age groups (middle-age, young-old, and old-old adults) and over a 5-year period. The COMT gene is a plausible candidate gene for memory functioning in adulthood and old age.