Dopamine-dependent cognitive processes after menopause: the relationship between COMT genotype, estradiol, and working memory

Julie A. Dumas, Jenna A. Makarewicz, Janice Bunn, Joshua Nickerson, Elizabeth McGee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The present study examined how a gene related to functioning of the dopaminergic system, catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), and estradiol were related to brain functioning in healthy postmenopausal women. Participants were 118 healthy, cognitively normal postmenopausal women between the ages of 50–60 years. All women provided a blood sample for COMT and estradiol analyses and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging scan. Working memory performance and related brain activation were measured with BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging during the N-back task. Results were examined across each COMT genotype and a median split was performed on the circulating estradiol levels to create high and low estradiol groups for each genotype. COMT genotype and estradiol level were hypothesized to be proxy measures for brain dopamine levels with the Met/Met and high estradiol group having the most dopamine and Val/Val and low estradiol group having the least dopamine. The functional magnetic resonance imaging results showed that the N-back task activated the expected bilateral frontal and bilateral parietal working memory network. However, no main effects of COMT genotype or estradiol group were found. There was COMT-estradiol interaction found in a small area of decreased activation in the right precentral gyrus (Brodmann Area 6) that was related to the increasing hypothesized dopamine level. Specifically, women with a Met/Met genotype in the high estradiol group had the least activation in this frontal lobe working memory region. Women with a Val/Val genotype in the low estradiol group had greater activation in this region relative to the other groups. Performance on the N-back task did not show any group differences. These data indicate that after menopause COMT genotype and potentially the menopause-related changes to the dopaminergic system are not related to cognition. Future studies should examine how the relationship between COMT, estradiol, and cognition around the menopause transition as there appear to be differences in this relationship for premenopausal and postmenopausal women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-61
Number of pages9
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • COMT
  • Dopamine
  • Estradiol
  • Menopause
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Aging
  • Developmental Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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