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Studying phenotypic and genetic characteristics of age at onset (AAO) and polarity at onset (PAO) in bipolar disorder can provide new insights into disease pathology and facilitate the development of screening tools.
To examine the genetic architecture of AAO and PAO and their association with bipolar disorder disease characteristics.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) and polygenic score (PGS) analyses of AAO (n = 12 977) and PAO (n = 6773) were conducted in patients with bipolar disorder from 34 cohorts and a replication sample (n = 2237). The association of onset with disease characteristics was investigated in two of these cohorts.
Earlier AAO was associated with a higher probability of psychotic symptoms, suicidality, lower educational attainment, not living together and fewer episodes. Depressive onset correlated with suicidality and manic onset correlated with delusions and manic episodes. Systematic differences in AAO between cohorts and continents of origin were observed. This was also reflected in single-nucleotide variant-based heritability estimates, with higher heritabilities for stricter onset definitions. Increased PGS for autism spectrum disorder (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), major depression (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), schizophrenia (β = −0.39 years, s.e. = 0.08), and educational attainment (β = −0.31 years, s.e. = 0.08) were associated with an earlier AAO. The AAO GWAS identified one significant locus, but this finding did not replicate. Neither GWAS nor PGS analyses yielded significant associations with PAO.
AAO and PAO are associated with indicators of bipolar disorder severity. Individuals with an earlier onset show an increased polygenic liability for a broad spectrum of psychiatric traits. Systematic differences in AAO across cohorts, continents and phenotype definitions introduce significant heterogeneity, affecting analyses.
Both neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental abnormalities have been suggested to be part of the etiopathology of severe mental illness (SMI). Neuron-specific enolase (NSE), mainly located in the neuronal cytoplasm, may indicate the process as it is upregulated after neuronal injury while a switch from non-neuronal enolase to NSE occurs during neuronal maturation.
We included 1132 adult patients with SMI [schizophrenia (SZ) or bipolar spectrum disorders], 903 adult healthy controls (HC), 32 adolescent patients with SMI and 67 adolescent HC. Plasma NSE concentrations were measured by enzyme immunoassay. For 842 adults and 85 adolescents, we used total grey matter volume (TGMV) based on T1-weighted magnetic resonance images processed in FreeSurfer v6.0. We explored NSE case-control differences in adults and adolescents separately. To investigate whether putative case-control differences in NSE were TGMV-dependent we controlled for TGMV.
We found significantly lower NSE concentrations in both adult (p < 0.001) and adolescent patients with SMI (p = 0.007) compared to HC. The results remained significant after controlling for TGMV. Among adults, both patients with SZ spectrum (p < 0.001) and bipolar spectrum disorders (p = 0.005) had lower NSE than HC. In both patient subgroups, lower NSE levels were associated with increased symptom severity. Among adults (p < 0.001) and adolescents (p = 0.040), females had lower NSE concentrations than males.
We found lower NSE concentrations in adult and adolescent patients with SMI compared to HC. The results suggest the lack of progressive neuronal injury, and may reflect abnormal neuronal maturation. This provides further support of a neurodevelopmental rather than a neurodegenerative mechanism in SMI.
Altered expression of the complement component C4A gene is a known risk factor for schizophrenia. Further, predicted brain C4A expression has also been associated with memory function highlighting that altered C4A expression in the brain may be relevant for cognitive and behavioral traits.
We obtained genetic information and performance measures on seven cognitive tasks for up to 329 773 individuals from the UK Biobank, as well as brain imaging data for a subset of 33 003 participants. Direct genotypes for variants (n = 3213) within the major histocompatibility complex region were used to impute C4 structural variation, from which predicted expression of the C4A and C4B genes in human brain tissue were predicted. We investigated if predicted brain C4A or C4B expression were associated with cognitive performance and brain imaging measures using linear regression analyses.
We identified significant negative associations between predicted C4A expression and performance on select cognitive tests, and significant associations with MRI-based cortical thickness and surface area in select regions. Finally, we observed significant inconsistent partial mediation of the effects of predicted C4A expression on cognitive performance, by specific brain structure measures.
These results demonstrate that the C4 risk locus is associated with the central endophenotypes of cognitive performance and brain morphology, even when considered independently of other genetic risk factors and in individuals without mental or neurological disorders.
We aimed at exploring potential pathophysiological processes across psychotic disorders, applying metabolomics in a large and well-characterized sample of patients and healthy controls.
Patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders (N = 212) and healthy controls (N = 68) had blood sampling with subsequent metabolomics analyses using electrochemical coulometric array detection. Concentrations of 52 metabolites including tyrosine, tryptophan and purine pathways were compared between patients and controls while controlling for demographic and clinical characteristics. Significant findings were further tested in medication-free subsamples.
Significantly decreased plasma concentrations in patients compared to healthy controls were found for 3-hydroxykynurenine (3OHKY, p = 0.0008), xanthurenic acid (XANU, p = 1.5×10−5), vanillylmandelic acid (VMA, p = 4.5×10−5) and metanephrine (MN, p = 0.0001). Plasma concentration of xanthine (XAN) was increased in the patient group (p = 3.5×10−5). Differences of 3OHKY, XANU, VMA and XAN were replicated across schizophrenia spectrum disorders and bipolar disorders subsamples of medication-free individuals.
Although prone to residual confounding, the present results suggest the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism, noradrenergic and purinergic system dysfunction as trait factors in schizophrenia spectrum and bipolar disorders. Of special interest is XANU, a metabolite previously not found to be associated with bipolar disorders.
Inflammation and immune activation have been implicated in the pathogenesis of severe mental disorders and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Despite high level of comorbidity, many studies of the immune system in severe mental disorders have not systematically taken cardiometabolic risk factors into account.
We investigated if inflammatory markers were increased in schizophrenia (SCZ) and affective (AFF) disorders independently of comorbid CVD risk factors. Cardiometabolic risk factors (blood lipids, body mass index and glucose) and CVD-related inflammatory markers CXCL16, soluble interleukin-2 receptor (sIL-2R), soluble CD14 (sCD14), macrophage inhibitory factor and activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule (ALCAM) were measured in n = 992 patients (SCZ, AFF), and n = 647 healthy controls. We analyzed the inflammatory markers before and after controlling for comorbid cardiometabolic risk factors, and tested for association with psychotropic medication and symptom levels.
CXCL16 (p = 0.03) and sIL-2R (p = 7.8 × 10−5) were higher, while sCD14 (p = 0.05) were lower in patients compared to controls after controlling for confounders, with significant differences in SCZ for CXCL16 (p = 0.04) and sIL-2R (p = 1.1 × 10−5). After adjustment for cardiometabolic risk factors higher levels of sIL-2R (p = 0.001) and lower sCD14 (p = 0.002) remained, also in SCZ (sIL-2R, p = 3.0 × 10−4 and sCD14, p = 0.01). The adjustment revealed lower ALCAM levels (p = 0.03) in patients. We found no significant associations with psychotropic medication or symptom levels.
The results indicate that inflammation, in particular enhanced T cell activation and impaired monocyte activation, are associated with severe mental disorders independent of comorbid cardiometabolic risk factors. This suggests a role of novel pathophysiological mechanisms in severe mental disorders, particularly SCZ.
Hill (Twin Research and Human Genetics, Vol. 21, 2018, 84–88) presented a critique of our recently published paper in Cell Reports entitled ‘Large-Scale Cognitive GWAS Meta-Analysis Reveals Tissue-Specific Neural Expression and Potential Nootropic Drug Targets’ (Lam et al., Cell Reports, Vol. 21, 2017, 2597–2613). Specifically, Hill offered several interrelated comments suggesting potential problems with our use of a new analytic method called Multi-Trait Analysis of GWAS (MTAG) (Turley et al., Nature Genetics, Vol. 50, 2018, 229–237). In this brief article, we respond to each of these concerns. Using empirical data, we conclude that our MTAG results do not suffer from ‘inflation in the FDR [false discovery rate]’, as suggested by Hill (Twin Research and Human Genetics, Vol. 21, 2018, 84–88), and are not ‘more relevant to the genetic contributions to education than they are to the genetic contributions to intelligence’.
Oxytocin has been proposed to mediate amygdala dysfunction associated with altered emotion processing in schizophrenia, but the contribution of oxytocin pathway genes is yet to be investigated.
To identify potential different contributions of three oxytocin receptor polymorphisms (rs53576, rs237902 and rs2254298) between patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SCZ), affective spectrum disorders (AD) and healthy controls (HC).
In a total of 346 participants (104 with SCZ, 100 with AD, and 142 HC) underwent genotyping and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during an emotional faces matching paradigm. Genetic association analyses were performed to test the possible effects on task-induced BOLD amygdala response to fearful/angry faces.
In participants with SCZ, the rs237902 G allele was associated with low amygdala activation (left hemisphere: b= −4.99, Bonferroni corrected P=0.04) and interaction analyses showed that this association was disorder specific (left hemisphere: Bonferroni corrected P=0.003; right hemisphere: Bonferroni corrected P=0.03). There were no associations between oxytocin polymorphisms and amygdala activation in the total sample, among AD patients or HC.
Rs237902 was associated with amygdala activation in response to fearful/angry faces only in patients with SCZ. Our findings indicate that the endogenous oxytocin system could serve as a contributing factor in biological underpinnings of emotion processing and that this contribution is disorder specific.
Common variants in the Vaccinia-related kinase 2 (VRK2) gene have been associated with schizophrenia, but the relevance of its encoded protein VRK2 in the disorder remains unclear.
To identify potential differences in VRK2 gene expression levels between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis not otherwise specified (PNOS) and healthy controls.
VRK2 mRNA level was measured in whole blood in 652 individuals (schizophrenia, n = 201; bipolar disorder, n = 167; PNOS, n = 61; healthy controls, n = 223), and compared across diagnostic categories and subcategories. Additionally, we analysed for association between 1566 VRK2 single nucleotide polymorphisms and mRNA levels.
We found lower VRK2 mRNA levels in schizophrenia compared with healthy controls (P<10–12), bipolar disorder (P<10–12) and PNOS (P = 0.0011), and lower levels in PNOS than in healthy controls (P = 0.0042) and bipolar disorder (P = 0.00026). Expression quantitative trait loci in close proximity to the transcription start site of the short isoforms of the VRK2 gene were identified.
Altered VRK2 gene expression seems specific for schizophrenia and PNOS, which is in accordance with findings from genome-wide association studies. These results suggest that reduced VRK2 mRNA levels are involved in the underlying mechanisms in schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
ANK3 gene variants have consistently been associated with
bipolar spectrum disorder and schizophrenia spectrum disorder. However, the
relevance of its encoded protein, ankyrin-3, in these disorders remains
elusive. Here, we show that ANK3 gene expression in blood
is significantly increased in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia compared
with healthy controls. Additionally, we identified potential cis-acting
expression quantitative trait loci located close to the transcription start
site of one of the isoforms of the gene. These findings suggest that
ANK3 mRNA is an interesting marker for further
investigation of the underlying mechanisms in psychotic disorders.
As the amygdala is part of the phylogenetic old brain, and its anatomical and functional properties are conserved across species, it is reasonable to assume genetic influence on its activity. A large corpus of candidate gene studies indicate that individual differences in amygdala activity may be caused by genetic variants within monoaminergic signaling pathways such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. However, to our knowledge, the use of genome-wide data to discover genetic variants underlying individual differences in adult amygdala activity is novel. In the present study, the combination of genome-wide data and functional imaging phenotypes from an emotional faces task yielded a significant association between rs10014254 and the amygdala using a region of interest approach. This single nucleotide polymorphism is located in a regulatory region upstream of the Paired-like homeobox 2b (PHOX2B) gene; therefore it could affect the expression of this gene. PHOX2B regulates the expression of enzymes necessary for the synthesis of several monoamines and is essential for the development of the autonomic nervous system. However, an attempt to replicate the finding in an independent sample from North America did not succeed. The synthesis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and genome-wide data takes a hypothesis-free approach as to which genetic variants are of interest. Therefore, we believe that an undirected finding within such a plausible region is of interest, and that our results add further support to the hypothesis that monoaminergic signaling pathways play a central role in regulating amygdala activity.
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