• Open Access

Cognitive effects of genetic variation in monoamine neurotransmitter systems: A population-based study of COMT, MAOA, and 5HTTLPR


  • Conflict of interest: Dr. Barnett is an employee of Cambridge Cognition Ltd and a co-inventor on patent PCT/GB2005/003279 (methods for assessing psychotic disorders) with Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones has also received research grant support from GlaxoSmithKline and has received a speaker's honorarium from Eli Lilly. Dr. Heron, Dr. Goldman, and Dr. Xu report no competing interests.

  • How to Cite this Article: Barnett JH, Xu K, Heron J, Goldman D, Jones PB. 2011. Cognitive Effects of Genetic Variation in Monoamine Neurotransmitter Systems: A Population-Based Study of COMT, MAOA, and 5HTTLPR. Am J Med Genet Part B 156:158–167.


Individual differences in cognitive function are highly heritable and most likely driven by multiple genes of small effect. Well-characterized common functional polymorphisms in the genes MAOA, COMT, and 5HTTLPR each have predictable effects on the availability of the monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. We hypothesized that 5HTTLPR genotype would show little association with prefrontal cognitive performance, but that COMT and MAOA would have interacting effects on cognition through their shared influence on prefrontal catecholamine availability. We assessed the individual and epistatic effects of functional polymorphisms in COMT, MAOA, and 5HTTLPR on children's prefrontal cognitive function in nearly 6,000 children from the population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Neither MAOA nor 5HTTLPR polymorphisms showed significant effects on cognitive function. In boys but not girls, there was a modest but statistically significant interaction between MAOA and COMT genotypes such that increased prefrontal catecholamine availability was associated with better working memory. These results suggest that assessment of multiple genes within functionally related systems may improve our understanding of the genetic basis of cognition. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.