Objective: Deficits in working memory and in prefrontal cortical physiology are important outcome measures in schizophrenia, and both have been associated with dopamine dysregulation and with a functional polymorphism (Val(108/158)Met) in the catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene that affects dopamine inactivation in the prefrontal cortex. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate in patients with schizophrenia the effect of COMT genotype on symptom variation, working memory performance, and prefrontal cortical physiology in response to treatment with an atypical antipsychotic drug.
Method: Thirty patients with acute untreated schizophrenia were clinically evaluated with the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, underwent COMT Val/Met genotyping, and entered an 8-week prospective study of olanzapine treatment. Twenty patients completed two 3-T functional magnetic resonance imaging scans at 4 and 8 weeks during performance of N-back working memory tasks.
Results: There was a significant interaction of COMT genotype and the effects of olanzapine on prefrontal cortical function. Met allele load predicted improvement in working memory performance and prefrontal physiology after 8 weeks of treatment. A similar effect was found also for negative symptoms assessed with the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale.
Conclusions: These results suggest that a genetically determined variation in prefrontal dopamine catabolism impacts the therapeutic profile of olanzapine.