Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inactivates dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine in the nervous system. A common functional polymorphism (Val158Met) leads to a three- to-four-fold variation in the COMT enzyme activity, the Met form displaying lower enzymatic activity. The Val158Met polymorphism affects pain perception, and subjects with the Met/Met genotype have the most pronounced response to experimental pain. Based on this information we analyzed the influence from the COMT Val158Met polymorphism on the efficacy of morphine in a cohort of patients suffering from cancer pain. We genotyped 207 Caucasian cancer patients on morphine treatment with respect to the Val158Met polymorphism and compared the morphine doses, serum concentrations of morphine and morphine metabolites between the genotype groups. Patients with the Val/Val genotype (n=44) needed more morphine (155+/-160 mg/24 h) when compared to the Val/Met (117+/-100 mg/24 h; n=96) and the Met/Met genotype (95+/-99 mg/24 h; n=67) groups (P=0.025). This difference was not explained by other factors such as duration of morphine treatment, performance status, time since diagnosis, perceived pain intensity, adverse symptoms, or time until death. These results suggest that genetic variation in the COMT gene may contribute to variability in the efficacy of morphine in cancer pain treatment.
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