Genome-wide supported variant MIR137 and severe negative symptoms predict membership of an impaired cognitive subtype of schizophrenia

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Progress in determining the aetiology of schizophrenia (Sz) has arguably been limited by a poorly defined phenotype. We sought to delineate empirically derived cognitive subtypes of Sz to investigate the association of a genetic variant identified in a recent genome-wide association study with specific phenotypic characteristics of Sz. We applied Grade of Membership (GoM) analyses to 617 patients meeting ICD-10 criteria for Sz (n = 526) or schizoaffective disorder (n = 91), using cognitive performance indicators collected within the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank. Cognitive variables included subscales from the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status, the Controlled Oral Word Association Test and the Letter Number Sequencing Test, and standardised estimates of premorbid and current intelligence quotient. The most parsimonious GoM solution yielded two subtypes of clinical cases reflecting those with cognitive deficits (CDs; N = 294), comprising 47.6% of the sample who were impaired across all cognitive measures, and a cognitively spared group (CS; N = 323) made up of the remaining 52.4% who performed relatively well on all cognitive tests. The CD subgroup were more likely to be unemployed, had an earlier illness onset, and greater severity of functional disability and negative symptoms than the CS group. Risk alleles on the MIR137 single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) predicted membership of CD subtype only in combination with higher severity of negative symptoms. These findings provide the first evidence for association of the MIR137 SNP with a specific Sz phenotype characterised by severe CDs and negative symptoms, consistent with the emerging role of microRNAs in the regulation of proteins responsible for neural development and function.

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