Background: Previous studies suggest that genetic polymorphisms and aging modulate inter-individual variability in brain stimulation-induced plasticity. However, the relationship between genetic polymorphisms and behavioral modulation through transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in older adults remains poorly understood.
Objective: Link individual tDCS responsiveness, operationalized as performance difference between tDCS and sham condition, to common genetic polymorphisms in healthy older adults.
Methods: 106 healthy older participants from five tDCS-studies were re-invited to donate blood for genotyping of apoliproprotein E (APOE: ε4 carriers and ε4 non-carriers), catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT: val/val, val/met, met/met), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF: val/val, val/met, met/met) and KIdney/BRAin encoding gene (KIBRA: C/C, C/T, T/T). Studies had assessed cognitive performance during tDCS and sham in cross-over designs. We now asked whether the tDCS responsiveness was related to the four genotypes using a linear regression models.
Results: We found that tDCS responsiveness was significantly associated with COMT polymorphism; i.e., COMT val carriers (compared to met/met) showed higher tDCS responsiveness. No other significant associations emerged.
Conclusion: Using data from five brain stimulation studies conducted in our group, we showed that only individual variation of COMT genotypes modulated behavioral response to tDCS. These findings contribute to the understanding of inherent factors that explain inter-individual variability in functional tDCS effects in older adults, and might help to better stratify participants for future clinical trials.