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Keywords:

  • dopamine;
  • DRD4;
  • n-back;
  • near-infrared spectroscopy;
  • working memory

Abstract

It has been shown that dopamine (DA) influences performance on neurocognitive tests, which are thought to rely on prefrontal activity. The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of gene polymorphisms related to DA activity, namely the D4 DA receptor (DRD4) gene exon III polymorphisms, on prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation. In this study we measured the brain oxygenation of the PFC during an n-back task with near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). We investigated 40 young healthy subjects, 12 of which carried the DRD4 exon III 7-repeat allele (group 7). These were compared with subjects without a 7-repeat allele (n = 28, group 4). Additionally, we compared good and bad performers with respect to brain activation. As expected, we found significant increases in the concentration of oxygenated haemoglobin [O2Hb] during the 1-back and 2-back condition compared with baseline, and a corresponding significant decrease of deoxyhaemoglobin concentration. As a main result of this study we also found an interaction effect between task condition and DRD4 genotype with higher increases of [O2Hb] during the 2-back version compared with the 1-back version for the subjects of the 7-repeat allele group only. The same effect was seen as a statistical trend, when we compared bad performers with good performers. Therefore, we interpret the effects of the 7-repeat allele group of DRD4 as a sign of ineffective brain activity, perhaps even as a sign of prefrontal noise.