Genetic contributions to age-related decline in executive function: A 10-year longitudinal study of COMT and BDNF polymorphisms

Kirk I. Erickson, Jennifer S. Kim, Barbara L. Suever, Michelle W. Voss, B. Magnus Francis, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Genetic variability in the dopaminergic and neurotrophic systems could contribute to age-related impairments in executive control and memory function. In this study we examined whether genetic polymorphisms for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) and brainderived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were related to the trajectory of cognitive decline occurring over a 10-year period in older adults. A single nucleotide polymorphism in the COMT (Val158/108Met) gene affects the concentration of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. In addition, a Val/Met substitution in the pro-domain for BDNF (Val66Met) affects the regulated secretion and trafficking of BDNF with Met carriers showing reduced secretion and poorer cognitive function. We found that impairments over the 10-year span on a task-switching paradigm did not vary as a function of the COMT polymorphism. However, for the BDNF polymorphism the Met carriers performed worse than Val homozygotes at the first testing session but only the Val homozygotes demonstrated a significant reduction in performance over the 10-year span. Our results argue that the COMT polymorphism does not affect the trajectory of age-related executive control decline, whereas the Val/Val polymorphism for BDNF may promote faster rates of cognitive decay in old age. These results are discussed in relation to the role of BDNF in senescence and the transforming impact of the Met allele on cognitive function in old age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - Sep 23 2008


  • Aging
  • BDNF
  • COMT
  • Cognition
  • Executive control
  • Longitudinal
  • Task-switching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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