Pain modality- and sex-specific effects of COMT genetic functional variants

Inna Belfer, Samantha K. Segall, William R. Lariviere, Shad B. Smith, Feng Dai, Gary D. Slade, Naim U. Rashid, Jeffrey S. Mogil, Claudia M. Campbell, Robert R. Edwards, Qian Liu, Eric Bair, William Maixner, Luda Diatchenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) metabolizes catecholamine neurotransmitters involved in a number of physiological functions, including pain perception. Both human and mouse COMT genes possess functional polymorphisms contributing to interindividual variability in pain phenotypes such as sensitivity to noxious stimuli, severity of clinical pain, and response to pain treatment. In this study, we found that the effects of Comt functional variation in mice are modality specific. Spontaneous inflammatory nociception and thermal nociception behaviors were correlated the most with the presence of the B2 SINE transposon insertion residing in the 3′UTR mRNA region. Similarly, in humans, COMT functional haplotypes were associated with thermal pain perception and with capsaicin-induced pain. Furthermore, COMT genetic variations contributed to pain behaviors in mice and pain ratings in humans in a sex-specific manner. The ancestral Comt variant, without a B2 SINE insertion, was more strongly associated with sensitivity to capsaicin in female vs male mice. In humans, the haplotype coding for low COMT activity increased capsaicin-induced pain perception in women, but not men. These findings reemphasize the fundamental contribution of COMT to pain processes, and provide a fine-grained resolution of this contribution at the genetic level that can be used to guide future studies in the area of pain genetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1368-1376
Number of pages9
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • COMT
  • Enzyme activity
  • Functional variant
  • Gender-specificity
  • Gene
  • Human
  • Modality-selective
  • Mouse
  • Polymorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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