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1.  Variation within the serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2C receptor system aligns with vulnerability to cocaine cue reactivity 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e369-.
Cocaine dependence remains a challenging public health problem with relapse cited as a major determinant in its chronicity and severity. Environmental contexts and stimuli become reliably associated with its use leading to durable conditioned responses (‘cue reactivity') that can predict relapse as well as treatment success. Individual variation in the magnitude and influence of cue reactivity over behavior in humans and animals suggest that cue-reactive individuals may be at greater risk for the progression to addiction and/or relapse. In the present translational study, we investigated the contribution of variation in the serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2C receptor (5-HT2CR) system in individual differences in cocaine cue reactivity in humans and rodents. We found that cocaine-dependent subjects carrying a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the HTR2C gene that encodes for the conversion of cysteine to serine at codon 23 (Ser23 variant) exhibited significantly higher attentional bias to cocaine cues in the cocaine-word Stroop task than those carrying the Cys23 variant. In a model of individual differences in cocaine cue reactivity in rats, we identified that high cocaine cue reactivity measured as appetitive approach behavior (lever presses reinforced by the discrete cue complex) correlated with lower 5-HT2CR protein expression in the medial prefrontal cortex and blunted sensitivity to the suppressive effects of the selective 5-HT2CR agonist WAY163909. Our translational findings suggest that the functional status of the 5-HT2CR system is a mechanistic factor in the generation of vulnerability to cocaine-associated cues, an observation that opens new avenues for future development of biomarker and therapeutic approaches to suppress relapse in cocaine dependence.
PMCID: PMC3966037  PMID: 24618688
attentional bias; cocaine; cue reactivity; 5-HT2C receptor; prefrontal cortex; serotonin
2.  Epistatic interaction of genetic depression risk variants in the human subgenual cingulate cortex during memory encoding 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e372-.
Recent genome-wide association studies have pointed to single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in genes encoding the neuronal calcium channel CaV1.2 (CACNA1C; rs1006737) and the presynaptic active zone protein Piccolo (PCLO; rs2522833) as risk factors for affective disorders, particularly major depression. Previous neuroimaging studies of depression-related endophenotypes have highlighted the role of the subgenual cingulate cortex (CG25) in negative mood and depressive psychopathology. Here, we aimed to assess how recently associated PCLO and CACNA1C depression risk alleles jointly affect memory-related CG25 activity as an intermediate phenotype in clinically healthy humans. To investigate the combined effects of rs1006737 and rs2522833 on the CG25 response, we conducted three functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of episodic memory formation in three independent cohorts (N=79, 300, 113). An epistatic interaction of PCLO and CACNA1C risk alleles in CG25 during memory encoding was observed in all groups, with carriers of no risk allele and of both risk alleles showing higher CG25 activation during encoding when compared with carriers of only one risk allele. Moreover, PCLO risk allele carriers showed lower memory performance and reduced encoding-related hippocampal activation. In summary, our results point to region-specific epistatic effects of PCLO and CACNA1C risk variants in CG25, potentially related to episodic memory. Our data further suggest that genetic risk factors on the SNP level do not necessarily have additive effects but may show complex interactions. Such epistatic interactions might contribute to the ‘missing heritability' of complex phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3966038  PMID: 24643163
CACNA1C; epistatisis; imaging genetics; memory; Piccolo; subgenual cingulate
3.  Glutamate/glutamine and neuronal integrity in adults with ADHD: a proton MRS study 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e373-.
There is increasing evidence that abnormalities in glutamate signalling may contribute to the pathophysiology of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ([1H]MRS) can be used to measure glutamate, and also its metabolite glutamine, in vivo. However, few studies have investigated glutamate in the brain of adults with ADHD naive to stimulant medication. Therefore, we used [1H]MRS to measure the combined signal of glutamate and glutamine (Glu+Gln; abbreviated as Glx) along with other neurometabolites such as creatine (Cr), N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and choline. Data were acquired from three brain regions, including two implicated in ADHD—the basal ganglia (caudate/striatum) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)—and one ‘control' region—the medial parietal cortex. We compared 40 adults with ADHD, of whom 24 were naive for ADHD medication, whereas 16 were currently on stimulants, against 20 age, sex and IQ-matched healthy controls. We found that compared with controls, adult ADHD participants had a significantly lower concentration of Glx, Cr and NAA in the basal ganglia and Cr in the DLPFC, after correction for multiple comparisons. There were no differences between stimulant-treated and treatment-naive ADHD participants. In people with untreated ADHD, lower basal ganglia Glx was significantly associated with more severe symptoms of inattention. There were no significant differences in the parietal ‘control' region. We suggest that subcortical glutamate and glutamine have a modulatory role in ADHD adults; and that differences in glutamate–glutamine levels are not explained by use of stimulant medication.
PMCID: PMC3966039  PMID: 24643164
ADHD; basal ganglia; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; parietal lobe
4.  Transcripts involved in calcium signaling and telencephalic neuronal fate are altered in induced pluripotent stem cells from bipolar disorder patients 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e375-.
Bipolar disorder (BP) is a chronic psychiatric condition characterized by dynamic, pathological mood fluctuations from mania to depression. To date, a major challenge in studying human neuropsychiatric conditions such as BP has been limited access to viable central nervous system tissue to examine disease progression. Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) now offer an opportunity to analyze the full compliment of neural tissues and the prospect of identifying novel disease mechanisms. We have examined changes in gene expression as iPSC derived from well-characterized patients differentiate into neurons; there was little difference in the transcriptome of iPSC, but BP neurons were significantly different than controls in their transcriptional profile. Expression of transcripts for membrane bound receptors and ion channels was significantly increased in BP-derived neurons compared with controls, and we found that lithium pretreatment of BP neurons significantly altered their calcium transient and wave amplitude. The expression of transcription factors involved in the specification of telencephalic neuronal identity was also altered. Control neurons expressed transcripts that confer dorsal telencephalic fate, whereas BP neurons expressed genes involved in the differentiation of ventral (medial ganglionic eminence) regions. Cells were responsive to dorsal/ventral patterning cues, as addition of the Hedgehog (ventral) pathway activator purmorphamine or a dorsalizing agent (lithium) stimulated expression of NKX2-1 (ventral identity) or EMX2 (dorsal) in both groups. Cell-based models should have a significant impact on our understanding of the genesis and therefore treatment of BP; the iPSC cell lines themselves provide an important resource for comparison with other neurodevelopmental disorders.
PMCID: PMC3966040
calcium signaling; disease modeling; microarray analysis; neuronal differentiation
5.  Selective loss of parvalbumin-positive GABAergic interneurons in the cerebral cortex of maternally stressed Gad1-heterozygous mouse offspring 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e371-.
Exposure to maternal stress (MS) and mutations in GAD1, which encodes the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) synthesizing enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) 67, are both risk factors for psychiatric disorders. However, the relationship between these risk factors remains unclear. Interestingly, the critical period of MS for psychiatric disorders in offspring corresponds to the period of GABAergic neuron neurogenesis and migration in the fetal brain, that is, in the late stage of gestation. Indeed, decrement of parvalbumin (PV)-positive GABAergic interneurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and hippocampus (HIP) has often been observed in schizophrenia patients. In the present study, we used GAD67-green fluorescent protein (GFP) knock-in mice (that is, mice in which the Gad1 gene is heterozygously deleted; GAD67+/GFP) that underwent prenatal stress from embryonic day 15.0 to 17.5 and monitored PV-positive GABAergic neurons to address the interaction between Gad1 disruption and stress. Administration of 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine revealed that neurogenesis of GFP-positive GABAergic neurons, but not cortical plate cells, was significantly diminished in fetal brains during MS. Differential expression of glucocorticoid receptors by different progenitor cell types may underlie this differential outcome. Postnatally, the density of PV-positive, but not PV-negative, GABAergic neurons was significantly decreased in the mPFC, HIP and somatosensory cortex but not in the motor cortex of GAD67+/GFP mice. By contrast, these findings were not observed in wild-type (GAD67+/+) offspring. These results suggest that prenatal stress, in addition to heterozygous deletion of Gad1, could specifically disturb the proliferation of neurons destined to be PV-positive GABAergic interneurons.
PMCID: PMC3966041  PMID: 24618690
GAD67; glucocorticoid receptor; neurogenesis; parvalbumin; prenatal stress; schizophrenia
6.  The autism and schizophrenia associated gene CYFIP1 is critical for the maintenance of dendritic complexity and the stabilization of mature spines 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e374-.
Copy number variation (CNV) at the 15q11.2 region has been identified as a significant risk locus for neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia (SCZ) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, the individual roles for genes at this locus in nervous system development, function and connectivity remain poorly understood. Haploinsufficiency of one gene in this region, Cyfip1, may provide a model for 15q11.2 CNV-associated neuropsychiatric phenotypes. Here we show that altering CYFIP1 expression levels in neurons both in vitro and in vivo influences dendritic complexity, spine morphology, spine actin dynamics and synaptic α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor lateral diffusion. CYFIP1 is highly enriched at synapses and its overexpression in vitro leads to increased dendritic complexity. Neurons derived from Cyfip1 heterozygous animals on the other hand, possess reduced dendritic complexity, increased mobile F-actin and enhanced GluA2-containing AMPA receptor mobility at synapses. Interestingly, Cyfip1 overexpression or haploinsufficiency increased immature spine number, whereas activity-dependent changes in spine volume were occluded in Cyfip1 haploinsufficient neurons. In vivo, Cyfip1 heterozygous animals exhibited deficits in dendritic complexity as well as an altered ratio of immature-to-mature spines in hippocampal CA1 neurons. In summary, we provide evidence that dysregulation of CYFIP1 expression levels leads to pathological changes in CNS maturation and neuronal connectivity, both of which may contribute to the development of the neurological symptoms seen in ASD and SCZ.
PMCID: PMC3966042  PMID: 24667445
7.  Epigenetic modulation of glucocorticoid receptors in posttraumatic stress disorder 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e368-.
Some individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exhibit lower basal salivary cortisol and higher glucocorticoid receptor (GR) sensitivity. Recent studies suggest that epigenetic mechanisms regulate the activity of cortisol and GR. As a means to combine and cross-validate those findings, we compared cortisol, GR expression and promoter methylation levels in peripheral T lymphocytes of healthy controls versus individuals endorsing a diagnosis of lifetime PTSD. Thirty subjects with lifetime (current or remitted) PTSD and 16 subjects never exposed to trauma were recruited. Salivary cortisol was collected at six time points over the course of a single weekday and analyzed utilizing a time-resolved fluorescence immunoassay. GR expression (GRtotal, 1B, 1C, 1F and 1H) was measured by quantitative RT-PCR. DNA methylation levels in human glucocorticoid receptor (hGR) 1B and 1C variant's promoter were quantified by epityper in T lymphocytes isolated by magnetic-assisted cell sorting. Individuals with lifetime PTSD have lower morning cortisol release, higher mRNA expression of hGRtotal, 1B, and 1C and lower overall methylation levels in hGR 1B and 1C promoters. Cortisol levels were inversely correlated with hGR 1B mRNA expression. Moreover, overall and CpG site-specific methylation levels were inversely correlated with hGRtotal and 1B mRNA expression. There was no difference between current and remitted PTSD across cortisol, GR expression mRNA and DNA methylation data. Traumatic events induce DNA methylation alterations in distinct promoters of hGR with transcriptional modifications that associate with hypoactive hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in individuals with PTSD. Our results also point toward an important role of hGR 1B variant in PTSD.
PMCID: PMC3966043  PMID: 24594779
cortisol; DNA methylation; epigenetics; glucocorticoid receptors; HPA axis; posttraumatic stress disorder
8.  Psychiatric disturbances regulate the innate immune system in CSF of conscious mice 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e367-.
Environment may affect brain activity through cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) only if there are regulatory molecules or cascades in CSF that are sensitive to external stimuli. This study was designed to identify regulatory activity present in CSF, better elucidating environmental regulation of brain function. By using cannulation-based sequential CSF sampling coupled with mass spectrometry-based identification and quantification of proteins, we show that the naive mouse CSF harbors, among 22 other pathways, the innate immune system as a main pathway, which was downregulated and upregulated, respectively, by acute stressor (AS) and acute cocaine (AC) administrations. Among novel processes and molecular functions, AS also regulated schizophrenia-associated proteins. Furthermore, AC upregulated exosome-related proteins with a false discovery rate of 1.0 × 10−16. These results suggest that psychiatric disturbances regulate the neuroimmune system and brain disorder-related proteins, presenting a sensitive approach to investigating extracellular mechanisms in conscious and various mouse models of psychiatric disorders.
PMCID: PMC3966044  PMID: 24594778
addiction; cocaine; signaling pathways; stress
9.  Affiliation buffers stress: cumulative genetic risk in oxytocin–vasopressin genes combines with early caregiving to predict PTSD in war-exposed young children 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e370-.
Research indicates that risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is shaped by the interaction between genetic vulnerability and early caregiving experiences; yet, caregiving has typically been assessed by adult retrospective accounts. Here, we employed a prospective longitudinal design with real-time observations of early caregiving combined with assessment of genetic liability along the axis of vasopressin–oxytocin (OT) gene pathways to test G × E contributions to PTSD. Participants were 232 young Israeli children (1.5–5 years) and their parents, including 148 living in zones of continuous war and 84 controls. A cumulative genetic risk factor was computed for each family member by summing five risk alleles across three genes (OXTR, CD38 and AVPR1a) previously associated with psychopathology, sociality and caregiving. Child PTSD was diagnosed and mother–child interactions were observed in multiple contexts. In middle childhood (7–8 years), child psychopathology was re-evaluated. War exposure increased propensity to develop Axis-I disorder by threefold: 60% of exposed children displayed a psychiatric disorder by middle childhood and 62% of those showed several comorbid disorders. On the other hand, maternal sensitive support reduced risk for psychopathology. G × E effect was found for child genetic risk: in the context of war exposure, greater genetic risk on the vasopressin–OT pathway increased propensity for psychopathology. Among exposed children, chronicity of PTSD from early to middle childhood was related to higher child, maternal and paternal genetic risk, low maternal support and greater initial avoidance symptoms. Child avoidance was predicted by low maternal support and reduced mother–child reciprocity. These findings underscore the saliency of both genetic and behavioral facets of the human affiliation system in shaping vulnerability to PTSD as well as providing an underlying mechanism of post-traumatic resilience.
PMCID: PMC3966045  PMID: 24618689
gene-by-environment; mother-child relationship; oxytocin; PTSD; vasopressin
10.  Transcriptome profiling of human hippocampus dentate gyrus granule cells in mental illness 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(3):e366-.
This study is, to the best of our knowledge, the first application of whole transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) to cells isolated from postmortem human brain by laser capture microdissection. We investigated the transcriptome of dentate gyrus (DG) granule cells in postmortem human hippocampus in 79 subjects with mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression) and nonpsychiatric controls. We show that the choice of normalization approach for analysis of RNA-seq data had a strong effect on results; under our experimental conditions a nonstandard normalization method gave superior results. We found evidence of disrupted signaling by miR-182 in mental illness. This was confirmed using a novel method of leveraging microRNA genetic variant information to indicate active targeting. In healthy subjects and those with bipolar disorder, carriers of a high- vs those with a low-expressing genotype of miR-182 had different levels of miR-182 target gene expression, indicating an active role of miR-182 in shaping the DG transcriptome for those subject groups. By contrast, comparing the transcriptome between carriers of different genotypes among subjects with major depression and schizophrenia suggested a loss of DG miR-182 signaling in these conditions.
PMCID: PMC3966046  PMID: 24594777
bipolar disorder; laser capture microdissection; major depression; microRNA; RNA-seq; schizophrenia
11.  Common polymorphisms in dopamine-related genes combine to produce a ‘schizophrenia-like' prefrontal hypoactivity 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e356-.
Individual changes in dopamine-related genes influence prefrontal activity during cognitive-affective processes; however, the extent to which common genetic variations combine to influence prefrontal activity is unknown. We assessed catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val108/158Met (rs4680) and dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) G-T (rs2283265) single nucleotide polymorphisms and functional magnetic resonance imaging during an emotional response inhibition test in 43 healthy adults and 27 people with schizophrenia to determine the extent to which COMT Val108/158Met and DRD2 G-T polymorphisms combine to influence prefrontal response to cognitive-affective challenges. We found an increased number of cognitive-deficit risk alleles in these two dopamine-regulating genes predict reduced prefrontal activation during response inhibition in healthy adults, mimicking schizophrenia-like prefrontal hypoactivity. Our study provides evidence that functionally related genes can combine to produce a disease-like endophenotype.
PMCID: PMC3944629  PMID: 24495967
catechol-O-methyl-transferase COMT genotype; dopamine D2 receptor gene; emotional inhibition; hypofrontality; prefrontal cortex; schizophrenia
12.  Polygenic determinants of white matter volume derived from GWAS lack reproducibility in a replicate sample 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e362-.
A recent publication reported an exciting polygenic effect of schizophrenia (SCZ) risk variants, identified by a large genome-wide association study (GWAS), on total brain and white matter volumes in schizophrenic patients and, even more prominently, in healthy subjects. The aim of the present work was to replicate and then potentially extend these findings. According to the original publication, polygenic risk scores—using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) information of SCZ GWAS—(polygenic SCZ risk scores; PSS) were calculated in 122 healthy subjects, enrolled in a structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. These scores were computed based on P-values and odds ratios available through the Psychiatric GWAS Consortium. In addition, polygenic white matter scores (PWM) were calculated, using the respective SNP subset in the original publication. None of the polygenic scores, either PSS or PWM, were found to be associated with total brain, white matter or gray matter volume in our replicate sample. Minor differences between the original and the present study that might have contributed to lack of reproducibility (but unlikely explain it fully), are number of subjects, ethnicity, age distribution, array technology, SNP imputation quality and MRI scanner type. In contrast to the original publication, our results do not reveal the slightest signal of association of the described sets of GWAS-identified SCZ risk variants with brain volumes in adults. Caution is indicated in interpreting studies building on polygenic risk scores without replication sample.
PMCID: PMC3944630  PMID: 24548877
genome-wide association study; healthy subjects; MRI; risk genotypes; schizophrenia; SNP
13.  Bidirectional rescue of extreme genetic predispositions to anxiety: impact of CRH receptor 1 as epigenetic plasticity gene in the amygdala 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e359-.
The continuum of physiological anxiety up to psychopathology is not merely dependent on genes, but is orchestrated by the interplay of genetic predisposition, gene x environment and epigenetic interactions. Accordingly, inborn anxiety is considered a polygenic, multifactorial trait, likely to be shaped by environmentally driven plasticity at the genomic level. We here took advantage of the extreme genetic predisposition of the selectively bred high (HAB) and low anxiety (LAB) mouse model exhibiting high vs low anxiety-related behavior and tested whether and how beneficial (enriched environment) vs detrimental (chronic mild stress) environmental manipulations are capable of rescuing phenotypes from both ends of the anxiety continuum. We provide evidence that (i) even inborn and seemingly rigid behavioral and neuroendocrine phenotypes can bidirectionally be rescued by appropriate environmental stimuli, (ii) corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor 1 (Crhr1), critically involved in trait anxiety, shows bidirectional alterations in its expression in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) upon environmental stimulation, (iii) these alterations are linked to an increased methylation status of its promoter and, finally, (iv) binding of the transcription factor Yin Yang 1 (YY1) to the Crhr1 promoter contributes to its gene expression in a methylation-sensitive manner. Thus, Crhr1 in the BLA is critically involved as plasticity gene in the bidirectional epigenetic rescue of extremes in trait anxiety.
PMCID: PMC3944631  PMID: 24518397
anxiety; Crhr1; methylation; EE; stress; YY1
14.  The vital role of constitutive GPCR activity in the mesolimbic dopamine system 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e361-.
The midbrain dopamine system has an important role in processing rewards and the stimuli associated with them, and is implicated in various psychiatric disorders. This system is tightly regulated by various G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). It is becoming increasingly clear that these receptors are not only activated by (endogenous) agonists but that they also exhibit agonist-independent intrinsic constitutive activity. In this review we highlight the evidence for the physiological role of such constitutive GPCR activity (in particular for cannabinoid 1, serotonin 2C and mu-opioid receptors) in the ventral tegmental area and in its output regions like the nucleus accumbens. We also address the behavioral relevance of constitutive GPCR signaling and discuss the repercussions of its abolition in dopamine-related psychiatric diseases.
PMCID: PMC3944632  PMID: 24518399
constitutive activity; dopamine system; GPCR; mood effects; addiction; obesity
15.  Long-term effects of maternal immune activation on depression-like behavior in the mouse 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e363-.
Depression is a debilitating mental disease affecting a large population worldwide, the pathophysiological mechanisms of which remain incompletely understood. Prenatal infection and associated activation of the maternal immune system (MIA) are prominently related to an increased risk for the development of several psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and autism in the offsprings. However, the role of MIA in the etiology of depression and its neurobiological basis are insufficiently investigated. Here we induced MIA in mice by challenge with polyinosinic:polycytidylic phosphate salt—a synthetic analog of double-stranded RNA, which enhances maternal levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6)—and demonstrate a depression-like behavioral phenotype in adult offsprings. Adult offsprings additionally show deficits in cognition and hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP) accompanied by disturbed proliferation of newborn cells in the dentate gyrus and compromised neuronal maturation and survival. The behavioral, neurogenic and functional deficiencies observed are associated with reduced hippocampal expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)A-VEGFR2. IL-6-STAT3-dependent aberrant VEGFA-VEGFR2 signaling is proposed as neurobiological mechanism mediating the effects of MIA on the developing fetal brain and ensuing consequences in adulthood.
PMCID: PMC3944633  PMID: 24548878
depression; hippocampal neurogenesis; maternal immune activation; VEGF
17.  Follow-up of loci from the International Genomics of Alzheimer's Disease Project identifies TRIP4 as a novel susceptibility gene 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e358-.
To follow-up loci discovered by the International Genomics of Alzheimer's Disease Project, we attempted independent replication of 19 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in a large Spanish sample (Fundació ACE data set; 1808 patients and 2564 controls). Our results corroborate association with four SNPs located in the genes INPP5D, MEF2C, ZCWPW1 and FERMT2, respectively. Of these, ZCWPW1 was the only SNP to withstand correction for multiple testing (P=0.000655). Furthermore, we identify TRIP4 (rs74615166) as a novel genome-wide significant locus for Alzheimer's disease risk (odds ratio=1.31; confidence interval 95% (1.19–1.44); P=9.74 × 10−9).
PMCID: PMC3944635  PMID: 24495969
dementia risk; DNA; GWAS; molecular epidemiology; SNP; thyroid receptor
18.  Environmental toxicants and autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e360-.
Although the involvement of genetic abnormalities in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is well-accepted, recent studies point to an equal contribution by environmental factors, particularly environmental toxicants. However, these toxicant-related studies in ASD have not been systematically reviewed to date. Therefore, we compiled publications investigating potential associations between environmental toxicants and ASD and arranged these publications into the following three categories: (a) studies examining estimated toxicant exposures in the environment during the preconceptional, gestational and early childhood periods; (b) studies investigating biomarkers of toxicants; and (c) studies examining potential genetic susceptibilities to toxicants. A literature search of nine electronic scientific databases through November 2013 was performed. In the first category examining ASD risk and estimated toxicant exposures in the environment, the majority of studies (34/37; 92%) reported an association. Most of these studies were retrospective case–control, ecological or prospective cohort studies, although a few had weaker study designs (for example, case reports or series). Toxicants implicated in ASD included pesticides, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), solvents, toxic waste sites, air pollutants and heavy metals, with the strongest evidence found for air pollutants and pesticides. Gestational exposure to methylmercury (through fish exposure, one study) and childhood exposure to pollutants in water supplies (two studies) were not found to be associated with ASD risk. In the second category of studies investigating biomarkers of toxicants and ASD, a large number was dedicated to examining heavy metals. Such studies demonstrated mixed findings, with only 19 of 40 (47%) case–control studies reporting higher concentrations of heavy metals in blood, urine, hair, brain or teeth of children with ASD compared with controls. Other biomarker studies reported that solvent, phthalate and pesticide levels were associated with ASD, whereas PCB studies were mixed. Seven studies reported a relationship between autism severity and heavy metal biomarkers, suggesting evidence of a dose–effect relationship. Overall, the evidence linking biomarkers of toxicants with ASD (the second category) was weaker compared with the evidence associating estimated exposures to toxicants in the environment and ASD risk (the first category) because many of the biomarker studies contained small sample sizes and the relationships between biomarkers and ASD were inconsistent across studies. Regarding the third category of studies investigating potential genetic susceptibilities to toxicants, 10 unique studies examined polymorphisms in genes associated with increased susceptibilities to toxicants, with 8 studies reporting that such polymorphisms were more common in ASD individuals (or their mothers, 1 study) compared with controls (one study examined multiple polymorphisms). Genes implicated in these studies included paraoxonase (PON1, three of five studies), glutathione S-transferase (GSTM1 and GSTP1, three of four studies), δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (one study), SLC11A3 (one study) and the metal regulatory transcription factor 1 (one of two studies). Notably, many of the reviewed studies had significant limitations, including lack of replication, limited sample sizes, retrospective design, recall and publication biases, inadequate matching of cases and controls, and the use of nonstandard tools to diagnose ASD. The findings of this review suggest that the etiology of ASD may involve, at least in a subset of children, complex interactions between genetic factors and certain environmental toxicants that may act synergistically or in parallel during critical periods of neurodevelopment, in a manner that increases the likelihood of developing ASD. Because of the limitations of many of the reviewed studies, additional high-quality epidemiological studies concerning environmental toxicants and ASD are warranted to confirm and clarify many of these findings.
PMCID: PMC3944636  PMID: 24518398
autism; environmental medicine; gene–environment interaction; heavy metals; polymorphisms; toxicants
20.  Markers of inflammation and stress distinguish subsets of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(2):e365-.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder share a number of common features, both symptomatically and biologically. Abnormalities in the neuroimmune and the stress-signaling pathways have been previously identified in brains of individuals with both diseases. However, the possible relationship between abnormalities in stress and neuroimmune signaling within the cortex of people with psychotic illness has not been defined. To test the hypothesis that combined alterations in brain stress responsiveness and neuroimmune/inflammatory status are characteristic of some individuals suffering from major mental illness, we examined gene expression in the Stanley Array Cohort of 35 controls, 35 individuals with schizophrenia and 34 individuals with bipolar disorder. We used levels of 8 inflammatory-related transcripts, of which SERPINA3 was significantly elevated in individuals with schizophrenia (F(2,88)=4.137, P<0.05), and 12 glucocorticoid receptor signaling (stress) pathway transcripts previously examined, to identify two clusters of individuals: a high inflammation/stress group (n=32) and a low (n=68) inflammation/stress group. The high inflammation/stress group has a significantly greater number of individuals with schizophrenia (n=15), and a trend toward having more bipolar disorder individuals (n=11), when compared with controls (n=6). Using these subgroups, we tested which microarray-assessed transcriptional changes may be associated with high inflammatory/stress groups using ingenuity analysis and found that an extended network of gene expression changes involving immune, growth factors, inhibitory signaling and cell death factors also distinguished these groups. Our work demonstrates that some of the heterogeneity in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may be partially explained by inflammation/stress interactions, and that this biological subtype cuts across Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-defined categories.
PMCID: PMC3944638  PMID: 24569695
bipolar disorder; glucocorticoid receptor; heterogeneity; inflammation; personalized medicine; schizophrenia
21.  Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis of human brain tissue from schizophrenia patients 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(1):e339-.
Recent studies suggest that genetic and environmental factors do not account for all the schizophrenia risk, and epigenetics also has a role in disease susceptibility. DNA methylation is a heritable epigenetic modification that can regulate gene expression. Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis was performed on post-mortem human brain tissue from 24 patients with schizophrenia and 24 unaffected controls. DNA methylation was assessed at over 485 000 CpG sites using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 Bead Chip. After adjusting for age and post-mortem interval, 4641 probes corresponding to 2929 unique genes were found to be differentially methylated. Of those genes, 1291 were located in a CpG island and 817 were in a promoter region. These include NOS1, AKT1, DTNBP1, DNMT1, PPP3CC and SOX10, which have previously been associated with schizophrenia. More than 100 of these genes overlap with a previous DNA methylation study of peripheral blood from schizophrenia patients in which 27 000 CpG sites were analysed. Unsupervised clustering analysis of the top 3000 most variable probes revealed two distinct groups with significantly more people with schizophrenia in cluster one compared with controls (P=1.74 × 10−4). The first cluster composed of 88% of patients with schizophrenia and only 12% controls, whereas the second cluster composed of 27% of patients with schizophrenia and 73% controls. These results strongly suggest that differential DNA methylation is important in schizophrenia etiology and add support for the use of DNA methylation profiles as a future prognostic indicator of schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC3905221  PMID: 24399042
brain; DNA methylation; epigenetics; schizophrenia
22.  A possible mechanism of the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum 5-HT1B receptors underlying the antidepressant action of ketamine: a PET study with macaques 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(1):e342-.
Ketamine is a unique anesthetic reagent known to produce various psychotic symptoms. Ketamine has recently been reported to elicit a long-lasting antidepressant effect in patients with major depression. Although recent studies provide insight into the molecular mechanisms of the effects of ketamine, the antidepressant mechanism has not been fully elucidated. To understand the involvement of the brain serotonergic system in the actions of ketamine, we performed a positron emission tomography (PET) study on non-human primates. Four rhesus monkeys underwent PET studies with two serotonin (5-HT)-related PET radioligands, [11C]AZ10419369 and [11C]DASB, which are highly selective for the 5-HT1B receptor and serotonin transporter (SERT), respectively. Voxel-based analysis using standardized brain images revealed that ketamine administration significantly increased 5-HT1B receptor binding in the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum, whereas it significantly reduced SERT binding in these brain regions. Fenfluramine, a 5-HT releaser, significantly decreased 5-HT1B receptor binding, but no additional effect was observed when it was administered with ketamine. Furthermore, pretreatment with 2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzo(f)quinoxaline (NBQX), a potent antagonist of the glutamate α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) receptor, blocked the action of ketamine on the 5-HT1B receptor but not SERT binding. This indicates the involvement of AMPA receptor activation in ketamine-induced alterations of 5-HT1B receptor binding. Because NBQX is known to block the antidepressant effect of ketamine in rodents, alterations in the serotonergic neurotransmission, particularly upregulation of postsynaptic 5-HT1B receptors in the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum may be critically involved in the antidepressant action of ketamine.
PMCID: PMC3905222  PMID: 24399045
AMPA receptor; ketamine; macaque monkey; nucleus accumbens;  5-HT1B receptor; [11C]AZ10419369
23.  Emotional contagion for pain is intact in autism spectrum disorders 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(1):e343-.
Perceiving others in pain generally leads to empathic concern, consisting of both emotional and cognitive processes. Empathy deficits have been considered as an element contributing to social difficulties in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and short video clips of facial expressions of people experiencing pain to examine the neural substrates underlying the spontaneous empathic response to pain in autism. Thirty-eight adolescents and adults of normal intelligence diagnosed with ASD and 35 matched controls participated in the study. In contrast to general assumptions, we found no significant differences in brain activation between ASD individuals and controls during the perception of pain experienced by others. Both groups showed similar levels of activation in areas associated with pain sharing, evidencing the presence of emotional empathy and emotional contagion in participants with autism as well as in controls. Differences between groups could be observed at a more liberal statistical threshold, and revealed increased activations in areas involved in cognitive reappraisal in ASD participants compared with controls. Scores of emotional empathy were positively correlated with brain activation in areas involved in embodiment of pain in ASD group only. Our findings show that simulation mechanisms involved in emotional empathy are preserved in high-functioning individuals with autism, and suggest that increased reappraisal may have a role in their apparent lack of caring behavior.
PMCID: PMC3905223  PMID: 24424389
autism; emotion perception; fMRI; pain
24.  Human cognitive ability is influenced by genetic variation in components of postsynaptic signalling complexes assembled by NMDA receptors and MAGUK proteins 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(1):e341-.
Differences in general cognitive ability (intelligence) account for approximately half of the variation in any large battery of cognitive tests and are predictive of important life events including health. Genome-wide analyses of common single-nucleotide polymorphisms indicate that they jointly tag between a quarter and a half of the variance in intelligence. However, no single polymorphism has been reliably associated with variation in intelligence. It remains possible that these many small effects might be aggregated in networks of functionally linked genes. Here, we tested a network of 1461 genes in the postsynaptic density and associated complexes for an enriched association with intelligence. These were ascertained in 3511 individuals (the Cognitive Ageing Genetics in England and Scotland (CAGES) consortium) phenotyped for general cognitive ability, fluid cognitive ability, crystallised cognitive ability, memory and speed of processing. By analysing the results of a genome wide association study (GWAS) using Gene Set Enrichment Analysis, a significant enrichment was found for fluid cognitive ability for the proteins found in the complexes of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor complex; P=0.002. Replication was sought in two additional cohorts (N=670 and 2062). A meta-analytic P-value of 0.003 was found when these were combined with the CAGES consortium. The results suggest that genetic variation in the macromolecular machines formed by membrane-associated guanylate kinase (MAGUK) scaffold proteins and their interaction partners contributes to variation in intelligence.
PMCID: PMC3905224  PMID: 24399044
GWAS; intelligence; NMDA-RC; pathway analysis; synapse
25.  Effects of ZNF804A on auditory P300 response in schizophrenia 
Translational Psychiatry  2014;4(1):e345-.
The common variant rs1344706 within the zinc-finger protein gene ZNF804A has been strongly implicated in schizophrenia (SZ) susceptibility by a series of recent genetic association studies. Although associated with a pattern of altered neural connectivity, evidence that increased risk is mediated by an effect on cognitive deficits associated with the disorder has been equivocal. This study investigated whether the same ZNF804A risk allele was associated with variation in the P300 auditory-evoked response, a cognitively relevant putative endophenotype for SZ. We compared P300 responses in carriers and noncarriers of the ZNF804A risk allele genotype groups in Irish patients and controls (n=97). P300 response was observed to vary according to genotype in this sample, such that risk allele carriers showed relatively higher P300 response compared with noncarriers. This finding accords with behavioural data reported by our group and others. It is also consistent with the idea that ZNF804A may have an impact on cortical efficiency, reflected in the higher levels of activations required to achieve comparable behavioural accuracy on the task used.
PMCID: PMC3905225  PMID: 24424391
EEG; P300; schizophrenia; ZNF804A

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