Substance use often starts in adolescence and poses a major problem for society and individual health. The dopamine system plays a role in substance use, and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is an important enzyme that degrades dopamine. The Val(108/158) Met polymorphism modulates COMT activity and thus dopamine levels, and has been linked to substance use. COMT gene methylation, on the other hand, may affect expression and thus indirectly COMT activity. We investigated whether methylation of the COMT gene was associated with adolescents' substance use. Furthermore, we explored whether the COMT Val(108/158) Met polymorphism interacts with COMT gene methylation in association with substance use. In 463 adolescents (mean age=16, 50.8% girls), substance use (cigarette smoking, alcohol and cannabis use) was assessed with self-report questionnaires. From blood samples, COMT Val(108/158) Met genotype and methylation rates of membrane bound (MB) and soluble (S) COMT promoters were assessed. MB-COMT promoter methylation was associated with non-daily smoking [odds ratio (OR)=1.82, P=0.03], but not with daily smoking (OR=1.20, P=0.34), MB-COMT promoter methylation was not associated with alcohol use. Adolescents with the Met/Met genotype and high rates of MB-COMT promoter methylation were less likely to be high-frequent cannabis users than adolescents with the Val/Val or Val/Met genotype. S-COMT promoter methylation was not associated with substance use. These results indicate that there is an association between substance use and COMT gene methylation. Although this association is complex, combining genetic and epigenetic variation of the COMT gene may be helpful in further elucidating the influence of the dopamine system on substance use in adolescence.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society.