Many genetic studies report mixed results both for the associations between COMT polymorphisms and schizophrenia and for the effects of COMT variants on common intermediate phenotypes of the disorder. Reasons for this may include small genetic effect sizes and the modulation of environmental influences. To improve our understanding of the role of COMT in the disease etiology, we investigated the effect of DNA methylation in the MB-COMT promoter on neural activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during working memory processing as measured by fMRI - an intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia. Imaging and epigenetic data were measured in 102 healthy controls and 82 schizophrenia patients of the Mind Clinical Imaging consortium (MCIC) study of schizophrenia. Neural activity during the Sternberg Item Recognition Paradigm was acquired with either a 3T siemens Trio or 1.5T siemens Sonata and analyzed using the FMRIB Software Library (FSL). DNA methylation measurements were derived from cryo-conserved blood samples. We found a positive association between MB-COMT promoter methylation and neural activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in a model using a region-of-interest approach and could confirm this finding in a whole-brain model. This effect was independent of disease status. analyzing the effect of MB-COMTpromoter DNA methylation on a neuroimaging phenotype can provide further evidence for the importance of COMTand epigenetic risk mechanisms in schizophrenia. The latter may represent trans-regulatory or environmental risk factors that can be measured using brainbased intermediate phenotypes.

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Keywords COMT, DNA methylation, fMRI, Intermediate phenotype, Schizophrenia
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Journal Epigenetics
Walton, E, Liu, J, Hass, J, White, T.J.H, Scholz, M, Rœssner, V, … Ehrlich, S.M. (2014). MB-COMT promoter DNA methylation is associated with working-memory processing in schizophrenia patients and healthy controls. Epigenetics, 9(8), 1101–1107. doi:10.4161/epi.29223