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Dopamine has direct and complex vasoactive effects on cerebral circulation. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) regulates cortical dopamine, and its activity can be influenced both genetically and pharmacologically. COMT activity influences the functional connectivity of the PFC at rest, as well as its activity during task performance, determined using blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI. However, its effects on cerebral perfusion have been relatively unexplored. Here, 76 healthy males, homozygous for the functional COMT Val158Met polymorphism, were administered either the COMT inhibitor tolcapone or placebo in a double-blind, randomised design. We then assessed regional cerebral blood flow at rest using pulsed arterial spin labelling. Perfusion was affected by both genotype and drug. COMT genotype affected frontal regions (Val158 > Met158), whilst tolcapone influenced parietal and temporal regions (placebo > tolcapone). There was no genotype by drug interaction. Our data demonstrate that lower COMT activity is associated with lower cerebral blood flow, although the regions affected differ between those affected by genotype compared with those altered by acute pharmacological inhibition. The results extend the evidence for dopaminergic modulation of cerebral blood flow. Our findings also highlight the importance of considering vascular effects in functional neuroimaging studies, and of exercising caution in ascribing group differences in BOLD signal solely to altered neuronal activity if information about regional perfusion is not available.

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Cerebral perfusion, Frontal cortex, Imaging genetics, Pharmaco-fMRI, Adolescent, Adult, Catechol O-Methyltransferase, Catechol O-Methyltransferase Inhibitors, Cerebrovascular Circulation, Dopamine, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Perfusion Imaging, Spin Labels, Tolcapone, Young Adult