Effect of the catechol-O-methyltransferase val158met genotype on children's early phases of facial stimuli processing

M. Battaglia, A. Zanoni, R. Giorda, U. Pozzoli, A. Citterio, S. Beri, A. Ogliari, M. Nobile, C. Marino, M. Molteni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to process and identify human faces matures early in life, is universal and is mediated by a distributed neural system. The temporal dynamics of this cognitive-emotional task can be studied by cerebral visual event-related potentials (ERPs) that are stable from midchildhood onwards. We hypothesized that part of individual variability in the parameters of the N170, a waveform that specifically marks the early, precategorical phases of human face processing, could be associated with genetic variation at the functional polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (val158met) gene, which influences information processing, cognitive control tasks and patterns of brain activation during passive processing of human facial stimuli. Forty-nine third and fourth graders underwent a task of implicit processing of other children's facial expressions of emotions while ERPs were recorded. The N170 parameters (latency and amplitude) were insensitive to the type of expression, stimulus repetition, gender or school grade. Although limited by the absence of met- homozygotes among boys, data showed shorter N170 latency associated with the presence of 1-2 met158 alleles, and family-based association tests (as implemented in the pbat version 2.6 software package) confirmed the association. These data were independent of the serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism and the N400 waveform investigated in the same group of children in a previous study. Some electrophysiological features of face processing may be stable from midchildhood onwards. Different waveforms generated by face processing may have at least partially independent genetic architectures and yield different implications toward the understanding of individual differences in cognition and emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-374
Number of pages11
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase
  • Children
  • Development
  • ERP
  • Face expressions of emotion
  • Genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Genetics


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