Comprehensive pathway analyses of schizophrenia risk loci point to dysfunctional postsynaptic signaling

Dick Schijven, Daniel Kofink, Vinicius Tragante, Marloes Verkerke, Sara L Pulit, René S Kahn, Jan H Veldink, Christiaan H Vinkers, Marco P Boks, Jurjen J Luykx

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have implicated many low-penetrance loci in schizophrenia. However, its pathological mechanisms are poorly understood, which in turn hampers the development of novel pharmacological treatments. Pathway and gene set analyses carry the potential to generate hypotheses about disease mechanisms and have provided biological context to genome-wide data of schizophrenia. We aimed to examine which biological processes are likely candidates to underlie schizophrenia by integrating novel and powerful pathway analysis tools using data from the largest Psychiatric Genomics Consortium schizophrenia GWAS (N=79,845) and the most recent 2018 schizophrenia GWAS (N=105,318). By applying a primary unbiased analysis (Multi-marker Analysis of GenoMic Annotation; MAGMA) to weigh the role of biological processes from the Molecular Signatures Database (MSigDB), we identified enrichment of common variants in synaptic plasticity and neuron differentiation gene sets. We supported these findings using MAGMA, Meta-Analysis Gene-set Enrichment of variaNT Associations (MAGENTA) and Interval Enrichment Analysis (INRICH) on detailed synaptic signaling pathways from the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) and found enrichment in mainly the dopaminergic and cholinergic synapses. Moreover, shared genes involved in these neurotransmitter systems had a large contribution to the observed enrichment, protein products of top genes in these pathways showed more direct and indirect interactions than expected by chance, and expression profiles of these genes were largely similar among brain tissues. In conclusion, we provide strong and consistent genetics and protein-interaction informed evidence for the role of postsynaptic signaling processes in schizophrenia, opening avenues for future translational and psychopharmacological studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-202
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes

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