Functional polymorphisms in BDNF and COMT genes are associated with objective differences in arithmetical functioning in a sample of young adults

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Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


Background: Understanding the molecular genetics of complex human behaviors and functions remains a substantial challenge for the neurosciences. Previous studies have shown a genetic basis for individual differences in mathematical functioning; however, the specific genes remain to be completely identified. In the present study, we explored the possibility that 2 functional polymorphisms in candidate genes could be associated with differences in arithmetical performance. Methods: A computerized test to analyze performance in basic arithmetical calculations (additions and subtractions) was applied to 168 healthy young Colombian participants using the PEBL (Psychology Experiment Building Language) battery. DNA samples were genotyped for 2 functional SNPs in candidate genes: brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-Val66Met and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT)-Val158Met. Results: We found significant differences for arithmetical processing scores between genotypes. For BDNF, Val/Val subjects had a worse performance (p value: 0.025) and for COMT, Val/Val carriers had a better performance (p value: 0.006). A multivariate model, including both BDNF and COMT genes, accounted for 7.1% of the variance in math processing scores. Discussion: To our knowledge, this is the first study finding associations of polymorphisms in BDNF and COMT genes with quantitative measures of numerical aptitude in healthy young participants. A future study of other genes involved in neural plasticity could be helpful to identify genetic correlates of arithmetical functioning, which will be important for the understanding of normal human behaviors and related neuropsychiatric disorders.

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© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1159/000366483

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