Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is essential in the metabolic degradation of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. In the present study, we examined the effect of a Val158Met polymorphism in the COMT gene on individual differences and changes in cognition (executive functions and visuospatial ability) in adulthood and old age. The participants were 292 nondemented men (initially aged 35-85 years) from a random sample of the population (i.e., the Betula study) tested at two occasions with a 5-year interval. Confirmatory factor analyses were used to test the underlying structure of three indicators of executive functions (verbal fluency, working memory, and Tower of Hanoi). Associations between COMT, age, executive functioning, and visuospatial (block design) tasks were examined using repeated-measures analyses of variance. Carriers of the Val allele (with higher enzyme activity) compared with carriers of the Met/Met genotype (with low enzyme activity) performed worse on executive functioning and visuo-spatial tasks. Individuals with the Val/Val genotype declined in executive functioning over the 5-year period, whereas carriers of the Met allele remained stable in performance. An Age COMT interaction for visuospatial ability located the effect for middle-aged men only. This COMT polymorphism is a plausible candidate gene for executive functioning and fluid intelligence in nondemented middle-aged and older adults.