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Schizophrenia hiPSC neurons display expression changes that are enriched for disease risk variants and a blunted activity-dependent response

By Panos Roussos, Boris Guennewig, Dominik C. Kaczorowski, Guy Barry, Kristen J. Brennand

Posted 08 Jul 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/062885

IMPORTANCE: Schizophrenia (SCZ) is a common illness with complex genetic architecture where both common genetic variation and rare mutations have been implicated. SCZ candidate genes participate in common molecular pathways that are regulated by activity-dependent changes in neurons, including the signaling network that modulates synaptic strength and the network of genes that are targets of fragile X mental retardation protein. One important next step is to further our understanding on the role of activity-dependent changes of genes expression in the etiopathogenesis of SCZ. OBJECTIVE: To examine whether neuronal activity-dependent changes of gene expression is dysregulated in SCZ. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Neurons differentiated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) derived from 4 cases with SCZ and 4 unaffected controls were depolarized using potassium chloride. RNA was extracted followed by genome-wide profiling of the transcriptome. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: We performed differential expression analysis and gene co-expression analysis to identify activity-dependent or disease-specific changes of the transcriptome. Further, we used gene set analyses to identify co-expressed modules that are enriched for SCZ risk genes. RESULTS: We identified 1,669 genes that are significantly different in SCZ-associated vs. control hiPSC-derived neurons and 1,199 genes that are altered in these cells in response to depolarization. We show that the effect of activity-dependent changes of gene expression in SCZ-associated neurons is attenuated compared to controls. Furthermore, these differentially expressed genes are co-expressed in modules that are highly enriched for genes affected by genetic risk variants in SCZ and other neurodevelopmental disorders. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Our results show that SCZ candidate genes converge to gene networks that are associated with a blunted effect of activity-dependent changes of gene expression in SCZ-associated neurons. Overall, these findings show that hiPSC neurons demonstrate activity-dependent transcriptional changes that can be utilized to examine underlying mechanisms and therapeutic interventions related to SCZ.

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