Rationale: Impairment in time perception, a critical component of decision-making, represents a risk factor for psychiatric conditions including substance abuse. A therapeutic that ameliorates this impairment could be advantageous in the treatment of impulsivity and decision-making disorders.
Objectives: Here we hypothesize that the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitor tolcapone, which increases dopamine tone in frontal cortex (Ceravolo et al Synapse 43:201-207, 2002), improves time perception, with predictive behavioral, genetic, and neurobiological components.
Methods: Subjects (n = 66) completed a duration estimation task and other behavioral testing in each of two sessions after receiving a single oral dose of tolcapone (200 mg) or placebo in randomized, double-blind, counterbalanced, crossover fashion. Resting state fMRI data were obtained in a subset of subjects (n = 40). Subjects were also genotyped for the COMT (rs4680) polymorphism.
Results: Time perception was significantly improved across four proximal time points ranging from 5 to 60 s (T(524) = 2.04, p = 0.042). The degree of this improvement positively correlated with subjective measures of stress, depression, and alcohol consumption and was most robust in carriers of the COMT Val158 allele. Using seed regions defined by a previous meta-analysis (Wiener et al Neuroimage 49:1728-1740, 2010), we found not only that a connection from right inferior frontal gyrus (RIFG) to right putamen decreases in strength on tolcapone versus placebo (p < 0.05, corrected), but also that the strength of this decrease correlates inversely with the increase in duration estimation on tolcapone versus placebo (r = - 0.37, p = 0.02).
Conclusions: Compressed time perception can be ameliorated by administration of tolcapone. Additional studies should be conducted to determine whether COMT inhibitors may be effective in treating decision-making disorders and addictive behaviors.
Keywords: Dopamine; Impulsivity; Time perception; Time perspective; Treatment.