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The Val158Met polymorphism of the human catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene affects activity of the enzyme and influences performance and efficiency of the prefrontal cortex (PFC); however, although catecholaminergic neurotransmission is implicated, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive because studies of the role of COMT in PFC function are sparse. This study investigated the effect of tolcapone, a brain-penetrant COMT inhibitor, on a rat model of attentional set shifting, which is dependent on catecholamines and the medial PFC (mPFC). Additionally, we investigated the effect of tolcapone on extracellular catecholamines in the mPFC using microdialysis in awake rats. Tolcapone significantly and specifically improved extradimensional (ED) set shifting. Tolcapone did not affect basal extracellular catecholamines, but significantly potentiated the increase in extracellular dopamine (DA) elicited by either local administration of the depolarizing agent potassium chloride or systemic administration of the antipsychotic agent clozapine. Although extracellular norepinephrine (NE) was also elevated by local depolarization and clozapine, the increase was not enhanced by tolcapone. We conclude that COMT activity specifically affects ED set shifting and is a significant modulator of mPFC DA but not NE under conditions of increased catecholaminergic transmission. These data suggest that the links between COMT activity and PFC function can be modeled in rats and may be specifically mediated by DA. The interaction between clozapine and tolcapone may have implications for the treatment of schizophrenia.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





5331 - 5335


Animals, Benzophenones, Catechol O-Methyltransferase Inhibitors, Catecholamines, Clozapine, Dopamine, Enzyme Inhibitors, Microdialysis, Nitrophenols, Norepinephrine, Prefrontal Cortex, Rats, Schizophrenia, Serotonin Antagonists, Synaptic Transmission, Tolcapone