Patients benefit from drug therapy not only through pharmacological mechanisms, but also through non-pharmacological action (placebo effect), which may be mediated in part by the prefrontal area of the brain. We consider that the difference between responders and non-responders to placebo might be related to polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR). To study this idea, we performed a randomized double-blind clinical trial using caffeine and lactose (placebo). Activity in the prefrontal area of the brain was measured in terms of blood flow by means of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) as an objective indicator. Self-reported feelings of drowsiness on established scales were used as subjective indicators. Twenty-one subjects in block A took caffeine on the first day and placebo on the third day, and 21 in block B took placebo on the first day and placebo on the third day. After placebo administration, improvement of sleepiness was significantly enhanced, a similar extent to that after caffeine medication. Among the 42 subjects, 22 showed S/S type polymorphism in the serotonin transporter (52.4 %), 17 showed S/L type (40.5 %) and 3 showed L/L type (7.10 %). Statistical analysis of the results indicate that subjects with L/L genotype showed a significantly greater placebo response in terms of both self-reported feeling of drowsiness and blood flow in the prefrontal area of the brain associated with working memory (46 area). Our results indicate that the L/L genotype of 5-HTTLPR, which is rare in Japanese (3.2 %) but common in Americans (32.2 %), may be associated with a greater placebo effect.
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