COMT Val158Met and cognition: main effects and interaction with educational attainment


*M.-A. Enoch, Laboratory of Neurogenetics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health 5625 Fishers Lane, Room 3S32, MSC 9412, Bethesda, MD 20892-9412, USA. E-mail:


Studies in children have shown that the genetic influence on cognition is positively correlated with socioeconomic status. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met, a common, functional polymorphism, has been implicated in executive cognition and working memory. Imaging studies have shown that the variant Met allele is associated with more efficient prefrontal cortical processing and better attention but also emotional vulnerability to stress. We hypothesized that COMT Val158Met genotype would interact with years of education (yrs ed), one indicator of socioeconomic adversity, to predict cognitive task performance. We therefore administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R) to 328 community-derived, genotyped, Plains American Indians (mean yrs ed = 12; range = 5–18). We found significant genotypic effects on WAIS-R measures of long-term memory, working memory and attention. The Met allele was associated with improved performance in the Information and Picture Completion subscales; Met/Met homozygotes performed the best. COMT genotype interacted with yrs ed to influence Information and Block Design scores: Met allele carriers’ scores improved markedly with increasing yrs ed, whereas the scores of Val/Val individuals were only marginally influenced by yrs ed. There was a crossover of effects at 11–12 yrs ed: in the less educated group, Met allele carriers actually performed worse than Val/Val individuals perhaps because of emotional vulnerability to educational adversity, but in the better educated group, Met allele carriers excelled. Our study in Plains American Indians has shown that COMT Val158Met influences several aspects of cognition and some of its effects are moderated by educational adversity.