Matching drug transcriptional signatures to rare losses disrupting synaptic gene networks identifies known and novel candidate drugs for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder. The etiology is not fully understood, but genetics plays an important role. Pathway analysis of genetic variants have suggested a central role for neuronal synaptic processes. Currently available antipsychotic medications successfully control positive symptoms (hallucinations and delusions) largely by inhibiting the dopamine D2 receptors; however, these drugs have more limited impact on negative symptoms (social withdrawal, flat affections, anhedonia) and cognitive deterioration. Drug development efforts have focused on a wide range of neurotransmitter systems and other agents, with conflicting or inconclusive results. New drug development paradigms are needed. A recent analysis, using common variant association results to match drugs based on their transcriptional perturbation signature, found drugs enriched in known antipsychotics plus novel candidates. We followed a similar approach, but started our analysis from a synaptic gene network implicated by rare copy number loss variants. We found that a significant number of antipsychotics (p-value = 0.0002) and other psychoactive drugs (p-value = 0.0004) upregulate synaptic network genes. Based on global gene expression similarity, active drugs formed two main clusters: one with many known antipsychotics and antidepressants, the other with various drug categories including two nootropics. We specifically recommend further examination of nootropics with limited side effects (meclofenoxate, piracetam and vinpocetine) for combination therapy with antipsychotics to improve cognitive performance. Detailed experimental follow-up is required to further evaluate other candidate drugs lacking an official nervous system indication, although, for at least a few of these, psychoactive effects have been reported in the literature.
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