Genetic contributions to attentional response time slopes across repeated trials
Lundwall, Rebecca A.; Dannemiller, James L.
Background: Attention provides vital contribution to everyday functioning, and deficits in attention feature in many psychological disorders. Improved understanding of attention may eventually be critical to early identification and treatment of attentional deficits. One step in that direction is to acquire a better understanding of genetic associations with performance on a task measuring reflexive (exogenous) visual attention. Reflexive attention is an important component of overall attention because (along with voluntary selective attention) it participates in determining where attention is allocated and how susceptible to distractors the subject might be. The task that we used involves the presentation of a target that is preceded by one of several different types of cues (none, double, or single, either ipsilateral or contralateral to where the target subsequently appears). We used several different outcome measures depending on the cue presented. We have previously studied the relationship between selected genes and mean response time (RT). Here we report on the contributions of genetic markers to RT increases or decreases over the course of the task (linear trend in RT slope). Results: Specifically, we find that RT slope for a variety of reflexive attention outcome measures is dependent on DAT1 genotype. DRD4 was near significant for one outcome measure in the final (best) model. APOE, COMT, and DBH were not significant in any models. Conclusions: It is especially interesting that genotype predicts linear changes in RT across trials (and not just mean differences or moment-to-moment variability). DAT1 is a gene that produces a protein involved in the transport of dopamine from the synapse. To our knowledge, this is the first study that has associated neurotransmitter genotypes with RT slope on a reflexive attention experiment. The direction of these effects is consistent with genetic risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That is, those with two risk alleles for ADHD (6R/6R on the DAT1 intron 8 VNTR) either got slower as the task progressed or had the least improvement. Those with no risk alleles (5R/5R) had the most improvement in RT as the task progressed.