Lack of Association Between COMT and Working Memory in a Population-Based Cohort of Healthy Young Adults

Margaret C Wardle, Harriet de Wit, Ian Penton-Voak, Glyn Lewis, Marcus R Munafò

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


The Val158Met polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is an important regulator of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, an area critical to working memory. Working memory deficits are present in several psychiatric disorders, and there is wide variation in working memory capacity in the normal population. Association studies of COMT and working memory in healthy volunteers have yielded inconsistent results, possibly because of small sample sizes. Here we examine COMT in relation to N-Back working memory task performance in a large population-based cohort of young adults. We predicted individuals with one or two copies of the Met allele would perform better, and that this relationship would be more evident in males than females. Participants (N=1857-2659) tested at 18 years of age, were enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We used multiple regression to examine effects of sex and COMT genotype on N-Back hits, false positives, discriminability, and reaction time while controlling for important covariates. COMT genotype did not predict hits or discriminability. There was a nominally significant interaction between COMT and sex on false positives, but this was not in the predicted direction, and was not significant after controlling for covariates. COMT genotype was not related to working memory in this large population-based cohort. It is possible COMT is not meaningfully associated with working memory in healthy young adults, or that COMT effects are detectable only in assessments reflecting neural processes underlying cognition, such as fMRI, rather than in behavioral performance.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 21 January 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.24.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition
  • Tobacco and Alcohol

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