The stress response is related to both physiological and psychological factors and is strongly marked by a neuroendocrine component. Genetic factors are believed to underlie individual differences in the degree of stress resilience and thereby contribute in determining susceptibility to stress-related pathologies like major depressive disorder (MDD). Little, however, is known about the genetic influence on the endocrine and behavioural stress response in relation to MDD.
Here, we sought to examine the effects of the catechol-o-methyltransferase polymorphism on psychological stress in three groups of individuals with different degrees of susceptibility to MDD (i.e. healthy controls, healthy high risk probands to MDD and those suffering from MDD). This genotype is involved in the metabolism of catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine).
Allelic variations of this polymorphism were found to influence the degree of subjective stress experience and plasma epinephrine stress response. Interactions between catechol-o-methyltransferase polymorphism and diagnostic group in measures of plasma epinephrine, cortisol and subjective responses to psychological stress were also found, with the influence of the different alleles on these measures differing between healthy controls relative to MDD patients and high risk probands.
These observations support a possible role for catechol-o-methyltransferase polymorphism in the endocrine and subjective response to psychological stress and thus may qualify as a possible candidate gene involved in the pathogenesis of MDD.