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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.
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