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Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb;12(2):190-4, 115. Epub 2006 Oct 10.

Plexin B3 is genetically associated with verbal performance and white matter volume in human brain.

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Department of Psychiatry, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.


The presence of genetic influences on cognitive performance and brain volume is well established. However, specific genetic determinants of the variance of these quantitative traits are not yet known. Plexins act as receptors for semaphorins and are implicated in axon guidance, which is a key process in brain development. We have previously shown that plexin B3 is a highly potent stimulator of neurite outgrowth, which makes its gene PLXNB3 an intriguing candidate gene for traits related to human brain development and cerebral connectivity. We identified several polymorphisms in PLXNB3 predicting changes of amino acids (V598I, E1156D and V1596E) conserved at the corresponding positions of the orthologs in mouse and chimpanzee. PLXNB3 was genotyped in 303 healthy volunteers and 42 male patients with schizophrenia. Cognitive performance was measured with the vocabulary test (Wortschatztest (WST)), a method to estimate roughly general intelligence (g). Brain morphology was characterized by magnetic resonance imaging. Compared to subjects not carrying the modern, human-specific haplotype A, carriers of A scored higher in vocabulary test (WST) irrespective of diagnosis (P=0.0004). This effect could be observed in three independent groups (healthy males: P=0.048; schizophrenic males: P=0.034 and healthy females: P=0.037). Additionally, the haplotype A was associated with increased volume of brain white matter that in turn correlated with performance in the vocabulary test. These findings suggest that plexin B3 may influence cognitive performance, and the development of white matter in vivo in a way similar to its known stimulating effect on neurite outgrowth in vitro. These novel observations warrant further replication in independent samples.

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