A promising approach in neuroimaging studies aimed at understanding effects of single genetic variants on behavior is the study of gene-trait interactions. Variation in the catechol-O-methyl-transferase gene (COMT) is associated with the regulation of dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex and with cognitive functioning. Given the involvement of dopaminergic neurotransmission in externalizing behavior, a trait characterized by impulsivity and aggression, especially in men, externalizing (as a trait) may index a set of genetic, environmental, and neural characteristics pertinent to understanding phenotypic effects of genetic variation in the COMT gene. In the current study, we used a gene-trait approach to investigate effects of the COMT val 158met polymorphism and externalizing on brain activity during moments involving low or high demands on cognitive control. In 104 male participants, interference-related activation depended conjointly on externalizing and val 158met: stronger activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate and lateral prefrontal cortex was found for val/val individuals with high trait externalizing while stronger activation in cingulate motor areas and sensorimotor precuneus was found for met/met individuals with low externalizing. Our results suggest that the val/val genotype, coupled with high levels of trait externalizing, lowers the efficiency of stimulus conflict resolution, whereas the met/met genotype, coupled with low levels of externalizing, lowers the efficiency of response selection.
- Inhibitory control