Psychologists from the University of Bonn report that people who have a certain variant of this gene are more easily distracted and experience a higher incidence of lapses due to a lack of attention.
Most of us are familiar with such everyday lapses, such as walking into a room and forgetting why you went there or forgetting the name of the person you are speaking with on the phone.
“Such short-term memory lapses are very common, but some people experience them particularly often,” said Dr. Martin Reuter from the Department for Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn.
In previous experiments, researchers discovered indications that the DRD2 plays a part in forgetfulness. The gene has an essential function in signal transmission within the frontal lobes.
“This structure can be compared to a director coordinating the brain like an orchestra,” said Dr. Sebastian Markett, principal author of the new study.
“The DRD2 gene acts as the conductor’s baton, because it plays a part in dopamine transmission in the brain,” he explained. “If the baton skips a beat, the orchestra gets confused.”
For their study, the researchers tested 500 people by taking a saliva sample and examining the DRD2 gene in each. All humans carry the DRD2 gene, which comes in two variants that are distinguished by only one letter within the genetic code. The one variant has C (cytosine), which is displaced by T (thymine) in the other.
According to the research team’s analyses, about a quarter of those tested had the DRD2 gene with the cytosine nucleobase, while three quarters were the genotype with at least one thymine base.
The scientists then set out to discover if this difference in the genetic code had an effect on everyday behavior.
By means of a self-assessment survey, they asked each person to state how frequently they experience short-term memory lapses, such as how often they forgot names or misplaced their keys. The survey also included questions about impulsivity-related factors, such as how easily they were distracted from actual tasks at hand, and how long they were able to maintain their concentration.
The researchers used statistical methods to check whether it was possible to associate data on the forgetfulness symptoms elicited from the surveys to one of the DRD2 gene variants. The results showed that functions such as attention and memory are less clearly expressed in people who carry the thymine variant of the gene than in the cytosine type, they reported.
“The connection is obvious: Such lapses can partially be attributed to this gene variant,” said Markett.
According to their own statements, the people with the thymine DRD2 variant more frequently “fall victim” to forgetfulness or attention deficits, while the cytosine type seems to be protected from those deficits, he said.
“This result matches the results of other studies very well,” added Markett.
He added that people with the gene variant should not believe it is just their genetic fate to be forgetful.
“There are things you can do to compensate for forgetfulness,” he said, noting some ideas, such as writing notes or making more of an effort to put your keys down in a specific location.
“People who develop such strategies for the different areas of their lives are better able to handle their genetic difference,” he concluded.
Source: University of Bonn