Martial arts, such as karate and taekwondo, require maintaining mental clarity and dealing with physical and psychological stress during a match. Dopamine is a critical factor in individual differences in competitive ability and is associated with competitive behavior across many species.
In this study, researchers explored the relationship between a functional single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene (rs4680) and athlete status in 83 male participants (21 elite level mixed martial arts fighters, 21 non-combat athletes and 21 non-athletes). All the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters competed professionally under various organizations. The previous study showed COMT Met/A allele carriers outperform Val/ G allele carriers on a variety of cognitive tasks. Interestingly, the relationship between genotype and cognitive performance is reported to reverse under stressful conditions. By combining all research, researchers hypothesized that GG homozygous would be more prevalent in fight sport athletes. As they predicted, results showed that MMA fighters are significantly more likely than non-athletes to carry the GG homozygous allele type on the COMT rs4680 SNP. On the other hand, Non- combat athletes’ GG allele type frequencies fell in the middle. MMA fighters, who have a high frequency of GG homozygotes, have higher COMT activity in the brain, resulting in lower dopamine levels. Conversely, the A allele carriers have lower COMT activity and higher dopamine levels. Increased stress is known to increase dopamine levels.
This suggests that during a match, stress-induced increases in dopamine could push A allele carrier (higher baseline brain dopamine) outside of the optimum performance range, while pushing GG genotypes (lower baseline brain dopamine) into the optimal. Read more about the study here:
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