Catechol-O-methyltransferase Val158Met polymorphism is associated with somatosensory amplification and nocebo responses.

Research paper by Laura L Wendt, Antje A Albring, Sven S Benson, Harald H Engler, Andrea A Engler, Anke A Hinney, Winfried W Rief, Oliver O Witzke, Manfred M Schedlowski

Indexed on: 16 Sep '14Published on: 16 Sep '14Published in: PloS one


A large number of unwanted adverse events and symptoms reported by patients in clinical trials are not caused by the drug provided, since most of adverse events also occur in corresponding placebo groups. These nocebo effects also play a major role in drug discontinuation in clinical practice, negatively affecting treatment efficacy as well as patient adherence and compliance. Experimental and clinical data document a large interindividual variability in nocebo responses, however, data on psychological, biological or genetic predictors of nocebo responses are lacking. Thus, with an established paradigm of behaviorally conditioned immunosuppressive effects we analyzed possible genetic predictors for nocebo responses. We focused on the genetic polymorphisms in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene (Val158Met) and analyzed drug specific and general side effects before and after immunosuppressive medication and subsequent placebo intake in 62 healthy male subjects. Significantly more drug-specific as well as general side effects were reported from homozygous carriers of the Val158 variant during medication as well as placebo treatment compared to the other genotype groups. Val158/Val158 carriers also had significantly higher scores in the somatosensory amplification scale (SSAS) and the BMQ (beliefs about medicine questionnaire). Together these data demonstrate potential genetic and psychological variables predicting nocebo responses after drug and placebo intake, which might be utilized to minimize nocebo effects in clinical trials and medical practice.