Cognitive or executive control is a critical mental ability, an important marker of mental illness, and among the most heritable of neurocognitive traits. Two candidate genes, catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) and DRD4, which both have a roles in the regulation of cortical dopamine, have been consistently associated with cognitive control. Here, we predicted that individuals with the COMT Met/Met allele would show improved response execution and inhibition as indexed by event-related potentials in a Go/NoGo task, while individuals with the DRD4 7-repeat allele would show impaired brain activity. We used independent component analysis (ICA) to separate brain source processes contributing to high-density EEG scalp signals recorded during the task. As expected, individuals with the DRD4 7-repeat polymorphism had reduced parietal P3 source and scalp responses to response (Go) compared to those without the 7-repeat. Contrary to our expectation, the COMT homozygous Met allele was associated with a smaller frontal P3 source and scalp response to response-inhibition (NoGo) stimuli, suggesting that while more dopamine in frontal cortical areas has advantages in some tasks, it may also compromise response inhibition function. An interaction effect emerged for P3 source responses to Go stimuli. These were reduced in those with both the 7-repeat DRD4 allele and either the COMT Val/Val or the Met/Met homozygous polymorphisms but not in those with the heterozygous Val/Met polymorphism. This epistatic interaction between DRD4 and COMT replicates findings that too little or too much dopamine impairs cognitive control. The anatomic and functional separated maximally independent cortical EEG sources proved more informative than scalp channel measures for genetic studies of brain function and thus better elucidate the complex mechanisms in psychiatric illness.
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