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Genetic variation in the gene encoding ZNF804A, a risk gene for schizophrenia, has been shown to affect brain functional endophenotypes of the disorder, while studies of white matter structure have been inconclusive.
We analysed effects of ZNF804A single nucleotide polymorphism rs1344706 on grey and white matter using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in high-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans of 62 schizophrenia patients and 54 matched healthy controls.
We found a significant (p < 0.05, family-wise error corrected for multiple comparisons) interaction effect of diagnostic group x genotype for local grey matter in the left orbitofrontal and right and left lateral temporal cortices, where patients and controls showed diverging effects of genotype. Analysing the groups separately (at p < 0.001, uncorrected), variation in rs1344706 showed effects on brain structure within the schizophrenia patients in several areas including the left and right inferior temporal, right supramarginal/superior temporal, right and left inferior frontal, left frontopolar, right and left dorsolateral/ventrolateral prefrontal cortices, and the right thalamus, as well as effects within the healthy controls in left lateral temporal, right anterior insula and left orbitofrontal cortical areas. We did not find effects of genotype of regional white matter in either of the two cohorts.
Our findings demonstrate effects of ZNF804A genetic variation on brain structure, with diverging regional effects in schizophrenia patients and healthy controls in frontal and temporal brain areas. These effects, however, might be dependent on the impact of other (genetic or non-genetic) disease factors.
Recent studies have provided strong evidence that variation in the gene neurocan (NCAN, rs1064395) is a common risk factor for bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia. However, the possible relevance of NCAN variation to disease mechanisms in the human brain has not yet been explored. Thus, to identify a putative pathomechanism, we tested whether the risk allele has an influence on cortical thickness and folding in a well-characterized sample of patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls.
Sixty-three patients and 65 controls underwent T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and were genotyped for the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs1064395. Folding and thickness were analysed on a node-by-node basis using a surface-based approach (FreeSurfer).
In patients, NCAN risk status (defined by AA and AG carriers) was found to be associated with higher folding in the right lateral occipital region and at a trend level for the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Controls did not show any association (p > 0.05). For cortical thickness, there was no significant effect in either patients or controls.
This study is the first to describe an effect of the NCAN risk variant on brain structure. Our data show that the NCAN risk allele influences cortical folding in the occipital and prefrontal cortex, which may establish disease susceptibility during neurodevelopment. The findings suggest that NCAN is involved in visual processing and top-down cognitive functioning. Both major cognitive processes are known to be disturbed in schizophrenia. Moreover, our study reveals new evidence for a specific genetic influence on local cortical folding in schizophrenia.
There is increasing evidence that the frequently reported working memory impairments in schizophrenia might be partly due to an alteration in the functional connectivity between task-relevant areas. However, little is known about the functional connectivity patterns in schizophrenia patients during learning processes. In a previous study, Koch et al. [Neuroscience (2007) 146, 1474–1483] have demonstrated stronger exponential activation decreases in schizophrenia patients during overlearning of short-term memory material. The question arises whether these differential temporal patterns of activation in schizophrenia patients and controls are going along with changes in task-related functional connectivity.
Therefore, in the current study, 13 patients with schizophrenia and 13 controls were studied while performing a short-term memory task associated with increasing overlearning of verbal stimulus material. Functional connectivity was investigated by analyses of psychophysiological interactions (PPI).
Results revealed significant task-related modulation of functional connectivity between the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and a network including the right DLPFC, left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, premotor cortex, right inferior parietal cortex, left and right cerebellum as well as the left occipital lobe in patients during the course of overlearning and practice. No significant PPI results were detectable in controls.
Activation changes with practice were associated with high functional connectivity between task-relevant areas in schizophrenia patients. This could be interpreted as a compensatory resource allocation and network integration in the context of cortical inefficiency and may be a specific neurophysiological signature underlying the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
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