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Visual attention enables us to prioritise behaviourally relevant visual information while ignoring distraction. The neural networks supporting attention are modulated by two catecholamines, dopamine and noradrenaline. The current study investigated the effects of single nucleotide polymorphisms in two catecholaminergic genes - COMT (Val158Met) and DBH (444 G/A) - on individual differences in attention functions. Participants (n = 125) were recruited from the Oxford Biobank by genotype-based recall. They were tested on a continuous performance task (sustained attention), a Go/No-Go task (response inhibition), and a task assessing attentional selection in accordance with the Theory of Visual Attention (TVA). We found a significant effect of DBH genotype status on the capacity to maintain attention over time (sustained attention) as measured by the continuous performance task. Furthermore, we demonstrated a significant association between COMT genotype status and effective threshold of visual perception in attentional selection as estimated based on the TVA task performance. No other group differences in attention function were found with respect to the studied genotypes. Overall, our findings provide novel experimental evidence that: (i) dopaminergic and noradrenergic genotypes have dissociable effects on visual attention; (ii) either insufficient or excessive catecholaminergic activity may have equally detrimental effects on sustained attention.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





175 - 189


COMT, DBH, attentional selection, catecholamines, individual differences, sustained attention, Adult, Attention, Catechol O-Methyltransferase, Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase, Executive Function, Female, Genetic Association Studies, Genotype, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Neuropsychological Tests, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Visual Perception