What Is The COMT Gene?
The Catechol-O-MethylTransferase gene (COMT gene) provides instructions for producing the Catechol-O-methyltransferase enzyme (COMT enzyme).
This has become a gene of interest because of its ability to affect people’s thinking, emotions, and behavior.
Changes in the COMT gene have been associated with anxiety, aggression, and other psychopathological behaviors.
What Is The Function Of COMT?
The COMT gene produces two versions of the COMT enzyme.
The membrane-bound COMT (MB-COMT) is produced by the brain’s nerve cells, which is the longer version.
The shorter version, called the soluble catechol-O-methyltransferase (S-COMT), is produced by different tissues in the body like the kidneys and liver and also by the blood.
In the brain, the MB-COMT helps in breaking down catecholamines.
Catecholamines are neurotransmitters with a single amino group, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
This enzyme is especially important in breaking down neurotransmitters in the brain's prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain associated with cognitive functions, including thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, and impulse control.
Changes in the COMT gene can lead to abnormal levels of COMT enzyme in the brain.
This can increase or decrease neurotransmitter levels, leading to different personality disorders and an increased risk of developing certain health conditions.
Understanding The COMT Gene
Health Conditions Associated With The COMT Gene
Below are some of the health conditions associated with COMT gene changes.
A 2013 study analyzed the relationship between COMT gene changes (polymorphism) and the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. It reported that Asians with the AA homozygote of the Val158Met polymorphism of this gene might have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Another 2013 study also analyzes the effect of Val158Met polymorphism of COMT on schizophrenia. Accordingly, people with this polymorphism may have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia because of structural changes in the prefrontal cortex.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes overall muscle pain, mood changes, sleep disorders, and fatigue. According to a 2013 study, people with fibromyalgia had lower COMT enzyme activity than those without the condition. The study concludes that the Val158Met SNP of this gene may be associated with pain sensitivity in these patients.
The COMT Gene And Personality Traits
People with COMT gene changes may be at a higher risk of developing specific personality traits mentioned below.
- Anxiety - People with specific COMT gene changes may be prone to anxiety and show signs of low extraversion and high neuroticism (a trait associated with anger, irritability, and emotional instability).
- High harm avoidance and low novelty seeking - A 2011 study associates men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB) with COMT polymorphism with high harm avoidance and low novelty seeking behaviors.
- High negative emotionality - Negative emotionality is associated with emotions like jealousy, moodiness, worry, and anxiety. A study associates specific COMT gene changes with higher levels of negative emotionality.
- Aggression - According to studies, aggression may be high in people with slow COMT activity. When the COMT enzyme works slowly, there is an abnormal spike in neurotransmitters like dopamine, which could lead to aggressive behavior.
- Increased substance tolerance - People with specific COMT gene changes were studied to have higher levels of substance tolerance and a higher risk for developing alcohol or opioid addiction. Such individuals also showed a lesser motivation to change their addiction patterns.
Nutritional Tips To Support COMT Gene Function
Slow COMT activity may lead to higher levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, and this can cause mood changes, irritability, anger, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Below are nutrients that support balanced COMT activity in the body.
- Vitamin C
- B vitamins, especially vitamins B12 and B9
Some flavonoids like EGCG, quercetin, fisetin, and oleoresin need COMT to be processed in the body.
Therefore, excess consumption of foods rich in these flavonoids may decrease COMT activity.
Some people may have slower COMT activity than others.
Genetic testing can help understand how a person’s COMT gene functions and changes in it, if any.
This may help recognize COMT activity levels and plan nutritional changes to supplement it.
Besides a good diet, nutritional supplements can also help balance these levels and improve COMT activity in the brain.
Talk to your doctor to know what supplements may work for you.
- The Catechol-O-MethylTransferase gene (COMT gene) contains instructions for the production of the COMT enzyme. This enzyme is associated with cognitive functioning and mood changes.
- Changes in the COMT gene may affect the amount of COMT enzyme in the brain and lead to behavioral disorders, anxiety, increased irritation and aggression, and an increased risk of Parkinson’s or schizophrenia.
- Nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, other B vitamins, and folate can regulate COMT activity in the brain and prevent anxiety and other mental health disorders.
- Genetic testing can help understand the COMT gene changes and COMT enzyme activity levels. This may help make the right dietary changes and ensure more specific and effective treatments.