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Dissociable Catecholaminergic Modulation of Visual Attention: Differential Effects of Catechol-O-Methyltransferase and Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylase Genes on Visual Attention

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Dissociable Catecholaminergic Modulation of Visual Attention: Differential Effects of Catechol-O-Methyltransferase and Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylase Genes on Visual Attention

Nir Shalev et al. Neuroscience.

Abstract

Visual attention enables us to prioritise behaviourally relevant visual information while ignoring distraction. The neural networks supporting attention are modulated by two catecholamines, dopamine and noradrenaline. The current study investigated the effects of single nucleotide polymorphisms in two catecholaminergic genes - COMT (Val158Met) and DBH (444 G/A) - on individual differences in attention functions. Participants (n = 125) were recruited from the Oxford Biobank by genotype-based recall. They were tested on a continuous performance task (sustained attention), a Go/No-Go task (response inhibition), and a task assessing attentional selection in accordance with the Theory of Visual Attention (TVA). We found a significant effect of DBH genotype status on the capacity to maintain attention over time (sustained attention) as measured by the continuous performance task. Furthermore, we demonstrated a significant association between COMT genotype status and effective threshold of visual perception in attentional selection as estimated based on the TVA task performance. No other group differences in attention function were found with respect to the studied genotypes. Overall, our findings provide novel experimental evidence that: (i) dopaminergic and noradrenergic genotypes have dissociable effects on visual attention; (ii) either insufficient or excessive catecholaminergic activity may have equally detrimental effects on sustained attention.

Keywords: COMT; DBH; attentional selection; catecholamines; individual differences; sustained attention.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Schematic of the CPT-SA and CPT-GNG tasks: (A) the basic outline of the CPT task (see methods section for full details); (B) the two alternating mask-images.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Schematic of the CombiTVA task: (A) the basic outline of an experimental trial (the full task consisted of nine blocks of 36 trials); (B) types of stimulus displays and exposure times used in the whole and partial report arrays (see methods section for full details).
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
TVA model diagnostics. (A) Comparison between the observed data (mean number of correctly reported letters) and the data as predicted by the fitted TVA model. (B) Example of TVA model performance in two participants, one with Met/Met and one Val/Val genotype, illustrating the relation between observed and fitted mean scores. The observed data are plotted as function of exposure duration and the curves represent TVA-based fits (maximum-likelihood fits). The graph shows three TVA parameters: K (the visual short-term memory capacity), t0 (the perceptual threshold), and C (the processing speed).
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
The effect of DBH 444 G/A genotype status on the different measures of attention functions: sustained attention (A) d’ change and (B) RT-SD as assessed by the CPT-SA task performance; (C) response inhibition as assessed by the CPT-GNG task performance; (D) processing speed, (E) VSTM capacity, (F) perceptual threshold, (G) top-down selectivity and (H) spatial bias as estimated based on the CombiTVA task performance. The G/A group showed a striking increase in target sensitivity over time compared to other two groups (*p = .005). No other group differences in attentional function were found with respect to the DBH genotype. Each column chart represents mean task measures ± SE.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
The effect of COMT Val158Met genotype status on the measures of attention functions: sustained attention (A) d’ change and (B) RT-SD as assessed by the CPT-SA task performance; (C) response inhibition as assessed by the CPT-GNG task performance; (D) processing speed, (E) VSTM capacity, (F) perceptual threshold, (G) top-down selectivity index and (H) spatial bias as estimated based on the CombiTVA task performance. The Val/Val group showed a significantly lower perceptual threshold compared to other two groups (*p ≪ .05). No other group differences in attentional function were found with respect to the COMT genotype. Each column chart represents mean task measures ± SE.
Fig. 6
Fig. 6
The association between COMT Val158Met genotype status and the mean number of errors made at different exposure durations. Data points in each line graph represent mean measures at six different exposure durations ± SE.
Fig. 7
Fig. 7
The association between COMT Val158Met genotype status and the mean number of reported letters at different exposure durations. Each column represents mean measures for each COMT group at six different exposure durations ± SE.

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