Effects of sex and COMT genotype on environmentally modulated cognitive control in mice

Francesco Papaleo, Lucy Erickson, Guangping Liua, Jingshan Chena, Daniel R. Weinberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive functioning differs between males and females, likely in part related to genetic dimorphisms. An example of a common genetic variation reported to have sexually dimorphic effects on cognition and temperament inhumans is the Val/Met polymorphism in catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT). We tested male and female wild-type mice (+/+) and their COMT knockout littermates (+/- and -/-) in the five-choice serial reaction time task (5CSRTT) to investigate the effects of sex, COMT genotype, and their interactions with environmental manipulations of cognitive functions such as attention, impulsivity, compulsivity, motivation, and rule-reversal learning. No sex- or COMT-dependent differences were present in the basic acquisition of the five-choice serial reaction time task. In contrast, specific environmental manipulations revealed a variety of sex- and COMT-dependent effects. Following an experimental change to trigger impulsive responding, the sexes showed similar increases in impulsiveness, but males eventually habituated whereas females did not. Moreover, COMT knockout mice were more impulsive compared with wild-type littermates. Manipulations involving mild stress adversely affected cognitive performance in males, and particularly COMT knockout males, but not in females. In contrast, following amphetamine treatment, subtle sex by genotype and sex by treatment interactions emerged primarily limited to compulsive behavior. After repeated testing, female mice showed improved performance, working harder and eventually outperforming-males. Finally, removing the food-restriction condition enhanced sex and COMT differences, revealing that overall, females outperform males and COMT knockout males outperform their wild-type littermates. These findings illuminate complex sex- and COMT-related effects and their interactions with environmental factors to influence specific executive cognitive domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20160-20165
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 4 2012


  • Food ad libitum
  • Gender
  • Operant behavior
  • Psychiatric disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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