Faculty Articles

The "Warrior" COMT Val/Met Genotype Occurs in Greater Frequencies in Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Relative to Controls

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Journal of Sports Science and Medicine





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A functional single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene (rs4680) is a gene variant that has been shown to predict the ability to maintain cognitive agility during combat and competition. Critically, COMT Met (low-activity; high dopamine) allele carriers outperform Val (high-activity; low dopamine) homozygotes on a variety of cognitive tasks. However, the relationship between genotype and cognitive performance appears to reverse under stressful conditions. Stress increases pre-frontal cortex dopamine (PFC DA) levels, and Met allele carriers (with higher DA) show performance deficits relative to Val allele carriers. This pattern reflects the inverted U-shaped function of DA activity where too little (Val allele) or too much (Met allele carriers under stress) DA is associated with poor cognitive performance. The Val allele advantage for stress resiliency is referred to as the COMT "warrior/ worrier" model. In line with this model, we predicted that elite level mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters would be more likely than athlete controls to carry the GG (warrior) genotype compared to an athlete group and a non-athlete group. Based on findings in our previous studies, we also assessed the stress biomarkers cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA). There was an overall significant difference in genotype frequencies between groups (p =0.01) and the MMA group showed a significantly greater GG (warrior) genotype frequency than the non-athlete control group (p = 0.003). There was not a significant group x genotype interaction for the cortisol or sAA; however, the non-athlete GG group had significantly higher cortisol than the A/- group (p = 0.038). Combined, our findings suggest that the "warrior" genotype may play a participation role in combat sports.

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Peer Reviewed