Active ribosomal genes, translational homeostasis and oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia and autism

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Infantile autism and schizophrenia are severe multifactorial disorders with a pronounced genetic predisposition. Their pathogeneses are often associated with oxidative stress in the brain. Previously, we established that a cell’s resistance to oxidative stress depended on the copy number of transcriptionally active genes for rRNA (ribosomal genes) in the cell’s genome. The feature is measured cytogenetically in cultured lymphocytes derived from patients. It varies from 120 up to 190 copies per diploid genome, with an arithmetic mean of 150±4 (SE) copies in a healthy population (n=239), being considerably lower, according to our previous results, in a sample of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (n=49), another multifactorial disease with a proven significant role of oxidative stress in its pathogenesis: from 115 to 165 copies, with a mean of 140±4 (SE). Conversely, a sample of schizophrenic patients (n=42) previously showed a higher value of copy number of active rRNA genes compared with a healthy population: from 145 to 190 copies, with a mean of 170±4. This fact is of special interest in the context of the well-known, but still unexplained phenomenon of the reduced comorbidity rate of schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis.


The copy number of active ribosomal genes was estimated in a sample of autistic children (n=51). In contrast with the schizophrenic patients studied previously, we found that the values were significantly lower than those in the healthy population: from 125 to 160 copies, with a mean of 142±5. In this work, we suggest a mathematical model of the oxidative stress dynamics on the basis of Lotka–Volterra’s approach to predator–prey interactions. In our model, the ‘prey’ represents reactive oxygen species, whereas the ‘predator’ simulates molecules of the antioxidant enzymes. The rate of biosynthesis of the latter is limited by the number of ribosomes available, which, in turn, is determined by the copy number of active rRNA genes. Analysis of the model showed the existence of a unique equilibrium point that makes biological sense. The reactive oxygen species level oscillatory approaches this equilibrium value, which inversely depends on the copy number of active rRNA genes.


Our findings confirm the hypothesis of disturbance of the ‘translational homeostasis’ in the pathogeneses of autism and schizophrenia, and would help explain why oxidative stress markers are discovered in most autism studies, whereas similar reports related to schizophrenia are far less consistent.

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