Molecular psychiatry

Neuregulin 1 (8p12) and childhood-onset schizophrenia: susceptibility haplotypes for diagnosis and brain developmental trajectories.

PMID 17033632


Childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS), defined as onset of psychosis by the age of 12, is a rare and malignant form of the illness, which may have more salient genetic influence. Since the initial report of association between neuregulin 1 (NRG1) and schizophrenia in 2002, numerous independent replications have been reported. In the current study, we genotyped 56 markers (54 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and two microsatellites) spanning the NRG1 locus on 78 COS patients and their parents. We used family-based association analysis for both diagnostic (extended transmission disequilibrium test) and quantitative phenotypes (quantitative transmission disequilibrium test) and mixed-model regression. Most subjects had prospective anatomic brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans at 2-year intervals. Further, we genotyped a sample of 165 healthy controls in the MRI study to examine genetic risk effects on normal brain development. Individual markers showed overtransmission of alleles to affecteds (P=0.009-0.05). Further, several novel four-marker haplotypes demonstrated significant transmission distortion. There was no evidence of epistasis with SNPs in erbB4. The risk allele (0) at 420M9-1395 was associated with poorer premorbid social functioning. Further, possession of the risk allele was associated with different trajectories of change in lobar volumes. In the COS group, risk allele carriers had greater total gray and white matter volume in childhood and a steeper rate of subsequent decline in volume into adolescence. By contrast, in healthy children, possession of the risk allele was associated with different trajectories in gray matter only and was confined to frontotemporal regions, reflecting epistatic or other illness-specific effects mediating NRG1 influence on brain development in COS. This replication further documents the role of NRG1 in the abnormal brain development in schizophrenia. This is the first demonstration of a disease-specific pattern of gene action in schizophrenia.