Catechol-O-Methyltransferase val158met Polymorphism Predicts Placebo Effect in Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Kathryn T. Hall, Anthony J. Lembo, Irving Kirsch, Dimitrios C. Ziogas, Jeffrey Douaiher, Karin B. Jensen, Lisa A. Conboy, John M. Kelley, Efi Kokkotou, Ted J. Kaptchuk

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Identifying patients who are potential placebo responders has major implications for clinical practice and trial design. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an important enzyme in dopamine catabolism plays a key role in processes associated with the placebo effect such as reward, pain, memory and learning. We hypothesized that the COMT functional val158met polymorphism, was a predictor of placebo effects and tested our hypothesis in a subset of 104 patients from a previously reported randomized controlled trial in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The three treatment arms from this study were: no-treatment ("waitlist"), placebo treatment alone ("limited") and, placebo treatment "augmented" with a supportive patient-health care provider interaction. The primary outcome measure was change from baseline in IBS-Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS) after three weeks of treatment. In a regression model, the number of methionine alleles in COMT val158met was linearly related to placebo response as measured by changes in IBS-SSS (p =. 035). The strongest placebo response occurred in met/met homozygotes treated in the augmented placebo arm. A smaller met/met associated effect was observed with limited placebo treatment and there was no effect in the waitlist control. These data support our hypothesis that the COMT val158met polymorphism is a potential biomarker of placebo response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere48135
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 23 2012

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