BACKGROUND: Many polymorphisms in dopamine genes are reported to affect cognitive, imaging, or clinical phenotypes. It is often inferred or assumed that such associations are causal, mediated by a direct effect of the polymorphism on the gene product itself. However, the supporting evidence is not always clear. METHODS: We conducted systematic reviews and meta-analyses to assess the empirical evidence for functional polymorphisms in genes encoding dopaminergic enzymes (COMT, DBH, DDC, MAOA, MAOB, and TH), dopamine receptors (DRD1, DRD2, DRD3, DRD4, and DRD5), the dopamine transporter (DAT), and vesicular transporters (VMAT1 and VMAT2). We defined functionality as an effect of the polymorphism on the expression, abundance, activity, or affinity of the gene product. RESULTS: We screened 22,728 articles and identified 255 eligible studies. We found robust and medium to large effects for polymorphisms in 4 genes. For catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), the Val158Met polymorphism (rs4680) markedly affected enzyme activity, protein abundance, and protein stability. Dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH) activity was associated with rs1611115, rs2519152, and the DBH-STR polymorphism. Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) activity was associated with a 5' VNTR polymorphism. Dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) binding was influenced by the Taq1A (rs1800497) polymorphism, and rs1076560 affected DRD2 splicing. CONCLUSIONS: Some widely studied dopaminergic polymorphisms clearly and substantially affect the abundance or activity of the encoded gene product. However, for other polymorphisms, evidence of such an association is negative, inconclusive, or lacking. These findings are relevant when selecting polymorphisms as "markers" of dopamine function, and for interpreting the biological plausibility of associations between these polymorphisms and aspects of brain function or dysfunction.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase, Dopamine receptor, Dopamine transporter, Gene expression, Monoamine oxidase, Variant