Family-based association studies support a sexually dimorphic effect of COMT and MAOA on genetic susceptibility to obsessive-compulsive disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 1999 May 1;45(9):1178-89. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(98)00319-9.


Background: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common and severe psychiatric illness that affects 1-3% of the population and presents a well-established co-morbidity with major depressive disorder (MDD). Twin and family studies have suggested a genetic component in the etiology of OCD, although the mode of inheritance is unknown. Pharmacotherapy of the disease implicates both serotonergic and dopaminergic pathways. Previously, guided by the 22q11 microdeletion-related psychiatric phenotype, we provided evidence for a sexually dimorphic association between OCD and the gene for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT). In this report, we use 110 nuclear OCD families to analyze the inheritance of variants of COMT and monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA), another gene modulating monoamine metabolism.

Methods: A sample of 110 nuclear OCD families was collected, and lifetime diagnoses were ascertained using the Diagnostic Interview for Genetic Studies (DIGS). DNA was genotyped for functional variants of the COMT and MAO genes, and allele inheritance was examined using the Transmission Disequilibrium Test (TDT) and Haplotype-based Haplotype Relative Risk (HHRR) test.

Results: We provide evidence supporting the previously reported sexually dimorphic association between low COMT enzymatic activity and OCD. We also provide evidence for a similar sexually dimorphic association between OCD and an allele of the MAOA gene, previously linked to high MAO-A enzymatic activity. In agreement with the well-established action of MAO-A inhibitors as antidepressants, this association is particularly marked among male OCD probands with co-morbid MDD, who represent more than 50% of our male OCD sample.

Conclusions: Our analysis indicates that variants of two genes modulating monoamine metabolism contribute significantly to OCD susceptibility. Most importantly, an unexpected sexually dimorphic pattern of genetic susceptibility to OCD is revealed and suggests the possibility that profound gender differences in genetic predisposition may exist not only for other OCD susceptibility genes, but for an array of other psychiatric disorders as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monoamine Oxidase / genetics*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / genetics*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Factors
  • X Chromosome / genetics*


  • Monoamine Oxidase
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase