Comasco E, Hellgren C, Sundström-Poromaa I
Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 23 (7) 629-635 [2013-07-00; online 2012-07-23]
both human and animal studies have shown a somewhat complex COMT-by-sex interaction effect on brain function and dysfunction. A functional variation in the gene coding for the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme, which metabolizes dopamine and noradrenaline, has been related to executive and emotional functions, and to sex dimorphism. to investigate if COMT Val158Met genotype influences startle response in pregnant women, given their physiologically elevated estradiol levels. seventy-three pregnant women were assessed in gestational week 38 for acoustic startle response, measured by electromyography of the blink reflex, during control condition, positive and negative anticipation stimuli, and pleasant and unpleasant image stimuli. A blood sample was taken for measurement of estradiol levels and genetic analysis. the results indicated a COMT Val158Met effect on startle response across all conditions (main effect of genotype, F(2,70=3.58), p=0.033), where Val/Val women displayed higher startle magnitudes than Val/Met carriers (Cohen's d=0.71). No significant difference by genotype was found in affective modulation. The findings also suggested an estrogen dose-dependent effect of COMT Val158Met on startle reflex. Among women with higher pregnancy-induced estradiol levels, Val/Val carriers had markedly higher startle response across conditions than heterozygotes (Cohen's d=1.36; F(4,21=11.07); p=0.003), while this effect was not present in women with estradiol levels under the median concentration. the observed effect of COMT Val158Met by estradiol on overall startle response is likely to be due to a variable noradrenergic transmission depending on COMT activity in a possible interaction with estradiol.