Prepulse inhibition of the startle reflex depends on the catechol O-methyltransferase Val158Met gene polymorphism

Psychol Med. 2008 Nov;38(11):1651-8. doi: 10.1017/S0033291708002912. Epub 2008 Feb 8.


Background: Recent evidence suggests that dopamine (DA) agonist-induced disruption of prepulse inhibition (PPI) depends on basal PPI values, in a manner that suggests an inverted U-shaped relationship between PPI and prefrontal DA levels. This is the first study to examine possible genetic determinants of PPI and the catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism, the main catabolic pathway of released DA in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Method: PPI was measured in 93 healthy males presented with 75-dB and 85-dB prepulses at 60-ms and 120-ms prepulse-pulse intervals. Subjects were grouped according to their COMT status into a Val/Val, a Val/Met and a Met/Met group.

Results: ANOVAs showed that at all prepulse and interval conditions, Val/Val individuals had the lowest PPI, Met/Met the highest, and Val/Met were intermediate.

Conclusions: These results suggest that PPI is regulated by DA neurotransmission in the PFC and its levels depend on the COMT Val158Met gene polymorphism. These findings enhance the value of the PPI paradigm in examining individual variability of early information processing in healthy subjects and psychiatric disorders associated with changes in PFC DA activity and attentional deficits such as schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alleles*
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neural Inhibition / genetics*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length / genetics*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Reflex, Startle / genetics*
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase
  • Dopamine