The COMT gene and the stress response

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The COMT gene and the stress response

In the landscape of human genetics, certain genes play a key role in determining our responses to various stimuli, stress being one of them.


The catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene is one of those key players. Known for its role in the breakdown of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation, the COMT gene has been linked to behavioral traits that could categorize people as “warriors” or “worriers”.


The science behind the COMT gene


The COMT gene comes in two main variants due to a single nucleotide polymorphism at codon 158 changing valine (Val) to methionine (Met). This small difference can significantly affect the way dopamine is processed in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior.


Warrior (GG) - Variant Val158

Individuals with the amino acid Val tend to have increased COMT enzyme activity, leading to a faster degradation of dopamine. This results in lower dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex in normal situations, which may hinder their performance in memory and attention tasks.

However, when a dopamine spike occurs in stressful situations, it raises their basal dopamine level to the perfect amount for these individuals to use the excess dopamine to their advantage. People with this genetic makeup often excel in high-stress situations. They are given the nickname "warriors," as they process aversive stimuli better.


Worrier/Anxious (AA) - Variant Met158

Those with the amino acid Met have a reduced COMT activity, which leads to higher dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex in normal situations. This can improve performance on memory and attention tasks, making them experts in environments requiring sustained cognitive effort. However, they may experience increased anxiety and poorer responses to stress, which fits the description of "worrier".


At ADNTRO, we have symbolically called "The Way of TAO" to heterozygous individuals, which are those that have one allele of each of them (G/A), to express this duality.



The role of dopamine and stress


The Dopamine is crucial for many functions, including mood regulation, of reward, and cognition. The dopamine balance in the prefrontal cortex, modulated by the gene COMT, influences whether one adopts a warrior or worry posture under stress. During stressful situations, people with the genotype GG may experience a beneficial increase in dopamine, improving their performance.

On the contrary, it is possible that people with the AA genotype do not see the same improvement, which could lead to a decreased performance and increased anxiety.


Complementary interactions with variants of COMT

Interestingly, the COMT genotype can affect the way we respond to certain supplements. For example, those with a slow variant of the COMT enzyme, may find that supplements that affect the food cycle methylation influence their neurotransmitter levels, causing irritability or anxiety.

High doses of methyl donor supplements such as methylfolate or methylB12 can lead to rapid cycling of neurotransmitter levels, making people with slow COMT variants initially feel better but then more irritable or anxious.


On the other hand, the COMT fast variants may require different considerations. Supplements that inhibit COMT, such as certain natural compounds found in green tea, may help modulate dopamine levels and support better cognitive function under stress.

On Genetic Lifehacks, you will find more information on how your COMT genotype can influence your reaction to supplements.


Why some children withstand the pressure while others crumble


An article published in The New York Times, explores why some children struggle under the pressure of standardized tests, while others thrive. It explains that Noah, despite being a gifted student, experiences severe anxiety before exams, manifesting in physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. Meanwhile, his brother Jacob faces the same tests with carefree confidence. The difference, as research suggests, can be attributed to their genetic makeup, specifically the COMT gene.


Clinical implications and future research


Understanding the implications of the genetic variants of COMT goes beyond mere curiosity; it has practical applications in personalized medicine. For example, individuals with different variants of COMT can respond differently to certain medications, particularly those that affect dopamine levels. The future research could further elucidate how they could be take advantage of these genetic differences to tailor treatments for conditions such as anxiety, schizophrenia and cognitive impairment.


Exploring the results of COMT with ADNTRO


If you're curious to know if you are "warrior" or "worrier", you can discover your COMT gene variant with ADNTRO. With your DNA test you will not only identify your COMT variant, but also discover how it can affect your stress response, cognitive abilities, and overall mental health. Knowing your COMT genotype can help you tailor your lifestyle, supplement choices, and stress management strategies to better suit your genetic makeup.

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