Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on executive functions: Influence of COMT Val/Met polymorphism

Christian Plewnia*, Bastian Zwissler, Isabella Längst, Brigitte Maurer, Katrin Giel, Rejko Krüger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

109 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a frequently used technique to investigate healthy and impaired neuronal functions. Its modulatory effect on executive functions is of particular interest for understanding the mechanisms underlying integration of cognition and behavior. The key role of prefrontal dopamine function for executive functions suggest that differences of the Val158Met polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene would interact with tDCS interventions in this domain. In this study, we hypothesized that the COMT Metallele homozygosity, associated with higher levels of prefrontal dopamine, would influence the effect of tDCS on higher-level executive functions. Method: Forty-six healthy subjects participated in a double-blind sham-controlled crossover study and underwent COMT genotyping. Anodal tDCS (20min, 1mA) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) or sham stimulation was applied during the performance of a parametric Go/No-Go (PGNG) test measuring sustained attention, response inhibition and cognitive flexibility as measured by set-shifting. Results: In COMT Met/Metallele carrier anodal tDCS of the dlPFC was associated with a deterioration of set-shifting ability, which is assessed by the most challenging level of the PGNG. Without regard to the carrier status of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism no effects of anodal tDCS on executive functions could be determined. Conclusions: In line with the model of non-linear effects of l-dopa on cortical plasticity high dopaminergic prefrontal activity mediated by COMT Val158Met polymorphism predicts a detrimental effect of anodal tDCS on cognitive flexibility. Therefore, we suggest that the individual genetic profile may modulate behavioral effect of tDCS. More precise application of brain stimulation techniques according to the individual genetic patterns may support the development of personalized treatment approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1801-1807
Number of pages7
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain stimulation
  • Dopamine
  • Executive functions
  • Genetics
  • Neurophysiology


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