Allelic variants at the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) locus are candidates to contribute to genetic components of interindividual differences in vulnerability to substance abuse. COMT plays a prominent role in dopaminergic circuits important for drug reward, and COMT alleles encode enzymes whose activities vary from three- to four-fold. We compared COMT allele frequencies in control research volunteers reporting insignificant lifetime use of addictive substances with those in volunteers reporting substantial polysubstance use. Homozygosity for the high-activity COMT allele was found in 18% of controls, 31% of volunteers with high lifetime substance use, and 39% meeting DSMIII-R substance abuse criteria [odds ratio (relative risks) 2.0 (control vs. use; 95% confidence interval 1.2-3.5; P < 0.013) and 2.8 (control vs. DSM; 1.3-6.1; P < 0.008)]. Individuals with the high-activity COMT variant may have greater genetic vulnerability to drug abuse.
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