Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) genotype biases neural correlates of empathy and perceived personal distress in schizophrenia

Sara Poletti, Daniele Radaelli, Roberto Cavallaro, Marta Bosia, Cristina Lorenzi, Adele Pirovano, Enrico Smeraldi, Francesco Benedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val(108/158)Met polymorphism (rs4680) influences enzyme activity with valine (Val) allele associated with higher enzymatic activity. Several studies suggest that factors influencing dopaminergic transmission could control response to stressful situations. Empathy is an essential element of human behavior, requires the ability to adopt another person's perspective, and has been found to be dysfunctional in schizophrenia. Methods: Twenty-eight schizophrenic patients underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging performing an empathy task. Perceived empathy has been evaluated with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. Results: An effect of COMT on perceived distress subscale has been shown, with methionine (Met)/Met subjects reporting lower rates of stress compared with Val/Val. Moreover, imaging results showed an effect of genotype on empathy processing in the anterior cingulate with Val/Val subjects showing the lowest activation. Discussion: This is the first study of the effect of rs4680 on interpersonal distress and neural correlates of empathy in schizophrenia. We found a decrease in neural responses in areas that ensure a cognitive control of emotion that is paralleled by perceived distress in interpersonal situation; this functional pattern seems to be influenced by rs4680 COMT polymorphism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-186
Number of pages6
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology

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