Catechol-O-methyltransferase and pain

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2010;95:227-79. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-381326-8.00010-7.


In animals, different types of COMT inhibitors, irrespective of their brain penetration, are pro-nociceptive in several models of acute and inflammatory pain. Similarly, COMT knock-out mice are more sensitive to nociceptive stimuli, whereas in mice over-expressing a high activity COMT variant nociceptive sensitivity is decreased. COMT knock-out mice also show altered response to opioids and stress-induced analgesia. In different rat models of neuropathic pain, the action of nitecapone is opposite: it is antinociceptive and antiallodynic. Complex actions of low COMT activity may be caused by enhanced adrenergic and dopaminergic activities that play different and even contrasting roles at different parts of the nociceptive system. Also compensatory changes in other neurotransmitters may occur. Pro-nociceptive effects seem to be caused by increased activation of peripheral adrenergic β(2)- and β(3) -receptors. Other properties of COMT inhibitors, like scavenging of oxygen and nitrogen radicals, may be important in antiallodynic effects found in neuropathic pain models. Increased number of µ-opioid receptors in certain brain areas may be responsible of enhanced opioid effects associated with a low COMT activity. In human pain studies, a low COMT activity is often associated with increased pain sensitivity in experimental pain models and with increased pre- and postoperative pain in acute clinical situations. As a rule, a simultaneous occurrence of several SNPs within the haplotype, causing low COMT activity, is more often associated with pain than any single SNP alone. In experimental pain studies, all negative findings resulted from concentrating solely on SNP rs4680 (Val158Met). Virtually all studies assessing haplotypes were able to confirm an association of a low COMT and increased pain. In chronic clinical pain, the effect of COMT polymorphisms depends on the pain conditions. Hence, in neuropathic and cancer pains, COMT activity is meaningless but in some chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions and migraine or headache low COMT activity appears to increase incidence and symptoms. A low COMT activity also increases availability of opioid receptors and may enhance opioid analgesia and adverse effects at least in cancer pains.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Pain / genetics
  • Pain / metabolism*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology


  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase