Genetic risk for schizophrenia (SCZ) is determined by many genetic loci whose compound biological effects are difficult to determine. We hypothesized that co-expression pathways of SCZ risk genes are associated with system-level brain function and clinical phenotypes of SCZ. We examined genetic variants related to the dopamine D2 receptor gene DRD2 co-expression pathway and associated them with working memory (WM) behavior, the related brain activity and treatment response. Using two independent post-mortem prefrontal messenger RNA (mRNA) data sets (total N = 249), we identified a DRD2 co-expression pathway enriched for SCZ risk genes. Next, we identified non-coding single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with co-expression of this pathway. These SNPs were associated with regulatory genetic loci in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (P<0.05). We summarized their compound effect on co-expression into a Polygenic Co-expression Index (PCI), which predicted DRD2 pathway co-expression in both mRNA data sets (all P<0.05). We associated the PCI with brain activity during WM performance in two independent samples of healthy individuals (total N = 368) and 29 patients with SCZ who performed the n-back task. Greater predicted DRD2 pathway prefrontal co-expression was associated with greater prefrontal activity and longer WM reaction times (all corrected P<0.05), thus indicating inefficient WM processing. Blind prediction of treatment response to antipsychotics in two independent samples of patients with SCZ suggested better clinical course of patientswith greater PCI (total N = 87; Po0.05). The findings on this DRD2 co-expression pathway are a proof of concept that gene co-expression can parse SCZ risk genes into biological pathways associated with intermediate phenotypes as well as with clinically meaningful information.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry