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Shan-Yuan is currently working on a study with participants who suffer from schizophrenia, specifically if alterations in vitamin A and D pathways contribute to the underlying cause of inflammation.
DEBORA ROTHMOND Senior Research Assistant
DANNY BOERRIGTER Research assistant
Many genes are differentially expressed in the cortex of people with schizophrenia, implicating factors that control transcription more generally. Hormone nuclear receptors dimerize to coordinate context-dependent changes in gene expression. We hypothesized that members of two families of nuclear receptors (NR4As), and retinoid receptors (RARs and RXRs), are altered in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of people with schizophrenia. We used next generation sequencing and then qPCR analysis to test for changes in mRNA levels for transcripts encoding nuclear receptors: orphan nuclear receptors (3 in the NR4A, 3 in the RAR, 3 in the RXR families and KLF4) in total RNA extracted from the DLPFC from people with schizophrenia compared to controls (n = 74). We also correlated mRNA levels with demographic factors and with estimates of antipsychotic drug exposure (schizophrenia group only). We tested for correlations between levels of transcription factor family members and levels of genes putatively regulated by these transcription factors. We found significantly down regulated expression of NR4A1 (Nurr 77) and KLF4 mRNAs in people with schizophrenia compared to controls, by both NGS and qPCR (p = or <0.01). We also detected decreases in NR4A2 (Nurr1) and RXRB mRNAs by using qPCR in the larger cohort (p<0.05 and p<0.01, respectively). We detected decreased expression of RARG and NR4A2 mRNAs in females with schizophrenia (p<0.05). The mRNA levels of NR4A1, NR4A2 and NR4A3 were all negative correlated with lifetime estimates of antipsychotic exposure. These novel findings, which may be influenced by antipsychotic drug exposure, implicate the orphan and retinoid nuclear receptors in the cortical pathology found in schizophrenia. Genes down stream of these receptors can be dysregulated as well, but the direction of change is not immediately predictable based on the putative transcription factor changes.
Stress has been implicated in the onset and illness course of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The effects of stress in these disorders may be mediated by abnormalities of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and its corticosteroid receptors. We investigated mRNA expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), and protein expression of multiple GRα isoforms, in the prefrontal cortex of 37 schizophrenia cases and 37 matched controls. Quantitative real-time PCR, western blotting, and luciferase assays were employed. In multiple regression analysis, schizophrenia diagnosis was a significant predictor of total GR mRNA expression (p<0.05), which was decreased (11.4%) in schizophrenia cases relative to controls. No significant effect of diagnosis on MR mRNA was detected. At the protein level, no significant predictors of total GRα protein or the full-length GRα isoform were identified. However, schizophrenia diagnosis was a strong predictor (p<0.0005) of the abundance of a truncated ≈ 50 kDa GRα protein isoform, putative GRα-D1, which was increased in schizophrenia cases (80.4%) relative to controls. This finding was replicated in a second cohort of 35 schizophrenia cases, 34 bipolar disorder cases, and 35 controls, in which both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder diagnoses were significant predictors of putative GRα-D1 abundance (p<0.05 and p=0.005, respectively). Full-length GRα was increased in bipolar disorder relative to schizophrenia cases. Luciferase assays demonstrated that the GRα-D1 isoform can activate transcription at glucocorticoid response elements. These findings confirm total GR mRNA reductions in schizophrenia and provide the first evidence of GR protein isoform abnormalities in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In order to conduct postmortem human brain research into the neuropatho-logical basis of schizophrenia, it is critical to establish cohorts that are well-characterized and well-matched. The aim of the present study was therefore to determine if specimen characteristics including: diagnosis, age, postmortem interval (PMI), brain acidity (pH), and/or the agonal state of the subject at death related to RNA quality, and to determine the most appropriate reference gene mRNAs. In the present cohort <10% variability in RINs was detected and the diagnostic groups were well matched overall. The cohort was adequately powered (0.80-0.90) to detect mRNA differences (25%) due to disease. The study suggests that multiple factors should be considered in mRNA expression studies of human brain tissues. When schizophrenia cases are adequately matched to control cases subtle differences in gene expression can be reliably detected.