Effort-related decision making in humanized COMT mice: Effects of Val

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Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2020 Jun 25; 196:172975






Catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) is an enzyme that metabolizes catecholamines, and is crucial for clearance of dopamine (DA) in prefrontal cortex. Val158Met polymorphism, which causes a valine (Val) to methionine (Met) substitution at codon 158, is reported to be associated with human psychopathologies in some studies. The Val/Val variant of the enzyme results in higher dopamine metabolism, which results in reduced dopamine transmission. Thus, it is important to investigate the relation between Val158Met polymorphisms using rodent models of psychiatric symptoms, including negative symptoms such as motivational dysfunction. In the present study, humanized COMT transgenic mice with two genotype groups (Val/Val (Val) and Met/Met (Met) homozygotes) and wild-type (WT) mice from the S129 background were tested using a touchscreen effort-based choice paradigm. Mice were trained to choose between delivery of a preferred liquid diet that reinforced panel pressing on various fixed ratio (FR) schedules (high-effort alternative), vs. intake of pellets concurrently available in the chamber (low-effort alternative). Panel pressing requirements were controlled by varying the FR levels (FR1, 2, 4, 8, 16) in ascending and descending sequences across weeks of testing. All mice were able to acquire the initial touchscreen operant training, and there was an inverse relationship between the number of reinforcers delivered by panel pressing and pellet intake across different FR levels. There was a significant group x FR level interaction in the ascending limb, with panel presses in the Val group being significantly lower than the WT group in FR1-8, and lower than Met in FR4. These findings indicate that the humanized Val allele in mice modulates FR/pellet-choice performance, as marked by lower levels of panel pressing in the Val group when the ratio requirement was moderately high. These studies may contribute to the understanding of the role of COMT polymorphisms in negative symptoms such as motivational dysfunctions in schizophrenic patients.