Epistasis effects of dopamine genes on interval timing and reward magnitude in humans

Neuropsychologia. 2013 Jan;51(2):293-308. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.08.002. Epub 2012 Aug 10.


We tested human participants on a modified peak procedure in order to investigate the relation between interval timing and reward processing, and examine the interaction of this relation with three different dopamine-related gene polymorphisms. These gene polymorphisms affected the expression of catechol-o-methyltransferase, which catabolizes synaptic dopamine primarily in the prefrontal cortex (COMT Val158Met polymorphism), D2 dopamine receptors primarily in the striatum (DRD2/ANKK1-Taq1a polymorphism), and dopamine transporters, which clear synaptic dopamine in the striatum (DAT 3' VNTR variant). The inclusion of these polymorphisms allowed us to investigate dissociable aspects of the dopamine system and their interaction with reward magnitude manipulations in shaping timed behavior. These genes were chosen for their roles in reward processing and cortico-striatal information processing that have been implicated for interval timing. Consistent with recent animal studies, human participants initiated their timed anticipatory responding earlier when expecting a larger reward in the absence of any changes in the timing of response termination or perceived time. This effect however was specific to two out of four evaluated COMT and DRD2 polymorphism combinations that lead to high prefrontal dopamine coupled with high D2 density and low prefrontal dopamine coupled with low D2 density. Larger rewards also decreased timing precision indices, some of which interacted with the COMT polymorphism. Furthermore, the COMT polymorphism that leads to higher prefrontal dopamine resulted in weaker manifestation of memory variability (relative to threshold variability) in timed behavior. There was no effect of DAT polymorphisms on any of the core behavioral measures. These results suggest that the reward modulates decision thresholds rather than clock speed, and that these effects are specific to COMT and DRD2 epistasis effects that presumably constitute a balanced prefrontal and striatal dopamine transmission.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Dopamine / genetics*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Epistasis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Reaction Time / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Reward*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase
  • Dopamine