BACKGROUND: Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) regulates cortical dopaminergic transmission and prefrontal-dependent cognitive function. However, its role in other cognitive processes, including emotional processing, is relatively unexplored. We therefore investigated the separate and interactive influences of COMT inhibition and Val158Met (rs4680) genotype on performance on an emotional test battery. METHODS: We recruited 74 healthy men homozygous for the functional COMT Val158Met polymorphism. Volunteers were administered either a single 200 mg dose of the brain-penetrant COMT inhibitor tolcapone or placebo in a double-blind, randomised manner. Emotional processing was assessed using the emotional test battery, and mood was rated using visual analogue scales and the Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire across the test day. RESULTS: There were no main or interactive effects of Val158Met genotype or tolcapone on any of the emotional processing measures or mood ratings. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that, at least in healthy adult men, COMT has little or no effect on emotional processing or mood. These findings contrast with several neuroimaging studies that suggest that COMT modulates neural activity during emotional processing. Thus, further studies are required to understand how COMT impacts on the relationship between behavioural output and neural activity during emotional processing. Nevertheless, our data suggest that novel COMT inhibitors under development for treating cognitive dysfunction are unlikely to have acute off target effects on emotional behaviours.
Dopamine, antidepressant, cognition, emotional processing, mood, tolcapone