Catechol O-methyltransferase haplotype predicts immediate musculoskeletal neck pain and psychological symptoms after motor vehicle collision

J Pain. 2011 Jan;12(1):101-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.05.008. Epub 2010 Aug 5.


Genetic variations in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene have been associated with experimental pain and risk of chronic pain development, but no studies have examined genetic predictors of neck pain intensity and other patient characteristics after motor vehicle collision (MVC). We evaluated the association between COMT genotype and acute neck pain intensity and other patient characteristics in 89 Caucasian individuals presenting to the emergency department (ED) after MVC. In the ED in the hours after MVC, individuals with a COMT pain vulnerable genotype were more likely to report moderate-to-severe musculoskeletal neck pain (76 versus 41%, RR = 2.11 (1.33-3.37)), moderate or severe headache (61 versus 33%, RR = 3.15 (1.05-9.42)), and moderate or severe dizziness (26 versus 12%, RR = 1.97 (1.19-3.21)). Individuals with a pain vulnerable genotype also experienced more dissociative symptoms in the ED, and estimated a longer time to physical recovery (median 14 versus 7 days, P = .002) and emotional recovery (median 8.5 versus 7 days, P = .038). These findings suggest that genetic variations affecting stress response system function influence the somatic and psychological response to MVC, and provide the first evidence of genetic risk for clinical symptoms after MVC.

Perspective: The association of COMT genotype with pain symptoms, psychological symptoms, and recovery beliefs exemplifies the pleiotropic effects of stress-related genes, which may provide the biological substrate for the biopsychosocial model of post-MVC pain. The identification of genes associated with post-MVC symptoms may also provide new insights into pathophysiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / enzymology*
  • Neck Pain / etiology
  • Neck Pain / genetics*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Whiplash Injuries / enzymology
  • Whiplash Injuries / etiology*


  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase