Altered Cortical Expression of GABA-Related Genes in Schizophrenia: Illness Progression vs Developmental Disturbance

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Schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder with altered expression of GABA-related genes in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). However, whether these gene expression abnormalities reflect disturbances in postnatal developmental processes before clinical onset or arise as a consequence of clinical illness remains unclear.


Expression levels for 7 GABA-related transcripts (vesicular GABA transporter [vGAT], GABA membrane transporter [GAT1], GABAA receptor subunit α1 [GABRA1] [novel in human and monkey cohorts], glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 [GAD67], parvalbumin, calretinin, and somatostatin [previously reported in human cohort, but not in monkey cohort]) were quantified in the PFC from 42 matched pairs of schizophrenia and comparison subjects and from 49 rhesus monkeys ranging in age from 1 week postnatal to adulthood.


Levels of vGAT and GABRA1, but not of GAT1, messenger RNAs (mRNAs) were lower in the PFC of the schizophrenia subjects. As previously reported, levels of GAD67, parvalbumin, and somatostatin, but not of calretinin, mRNAs were also lower in these subjects. Neither illness duration nor age accounted for the levels of the transcripts with altered expression in schizophrenia. In monkey PFC, developmental changes in expression levels of many of these transcripts were in the opposite direction of the changes observed in schizophrenia. For example, mRNA levels for vGAT, GABRA1, GAD67, and parvalbumin all increased with age.


Together with published reports, these findings support the interpretation that the altered expression of GABA-related transcripts in schizophrenia reflects a blunting of normal postnatal development changes, but they cannot exclude a decline during the early stages of clinical illness.

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