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The GluN2B subunit of N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors is crucially involved in the physiology of the prefrontal cortex during working memory (WM). Consistently, genetic variants in the GluN2B coding gene (GRIN2B) have been associated with cognitive phenotypes. However, it is unclear how GRIN2B genetic variation affects gene expression and prefrontal cognitive processing. Using a composite score, we tested the combined effect of GRIN2B variants on prefrontal activity during WM performance in healthy subjects.
We computed a composite score to combine the effects of single nucleotide polymorphisms on post-mortem prefrontal GRIN2B mRNA expression. We then computed the composite score in independent samples of healthy participants in a peripheral blood expression study (n = 46), in a WM behavioural study (n = 116) and in a WM functional magnetic resonance imaging study (n = 122).
Five polymorphisms were associated with GRIN2B expression: rs2160517, rs219931, rs11055792, rs17833967 and rs12814951 (all corrected p < 0.05). The score computed to account for their combined effect reliably indexed gene expression. GRIN2B composite score correlated negatively with intelligence quotient, WM behavioural efficiency and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity. Moreover, there was a non-linear association between GRIN2B genetic score and prefrontal activity, i.e. both high and low putative genetic score levels were associated with high blood oxygen level-dependent signals in the prefrontal cortex.
Multiple genetic variants in GRIN2B are jointly associated with gene expression, prefrontal function and behaviour during WM. These results support the role of GRIN2B genetic variants in WM prefrontal activity in human adults.
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