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JAMA Psychiatry. 2015 Aug;72(8):747-56. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0533.

Altered Markers of Cortical γ-Aminobutyric Acid Neuronal Activity in Schizophrenia: Role of the NARP Gene.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania2Department of Psychiatry, Nara Medical University, Nara, Japan.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania3Department of Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



In schizophrenia, working memory deficits appear to reflect abnormalities in the generation of gamma oscillations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The generation of gamma oscillations requires the phasic excitation of inhibitory parvalbumin-containing interneurons. Thus, gamma oscillations depend, in part, on the number of synaptic glutamate receptors on parvalbumin interneurons. However, little is known about the molecular factors that regulate glutamate receptor-mediated excitation of parvalbumin interneurons in schizophrenia.


To quantify in individuals with schizophrenia the expression of immediate early genes (NARP, ARC, and SGK1) regulating glutamate synaptic neurotransmission.


Postmortem brain specimens (n = 206) were obtained from individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder and from well-matched healthy persons (controls). For a study of brain tissue, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, in situ hybridization, or microarray analyses were used to measure transcript levels in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at gray matter, laminar, and cellular levels of resolutions. This study was conducted between January 1, 2013, and November 30, 2014.


Expression levels for NARP, ARC, and SGK1 messenger RNA (mRNA) were compared between specimens from individuals with schizophrenia and controls. Diagnostic specificity was assessed by quantifying NARP mRNA levels in specimens from individuals with mood disorders.


By quantitative polymerase chain reaction, levels of NARP mRNA were significantly lower by 25.6% in specimens from individuals with schizophrenia compared with the controls (mean [SD], 0.036 [0.018] vs 0.049 [0.015]; F1,114 = 21.0; P < .001). Levels of ARC (F1,112 = 0.93; P = .34) and SGK1 (F1,110 = 2.52; P = .12) were not significant. These findings were supported by in situ hybridization (NARP; individuals with schizophrenia vs controls: 40.1% lower [P = .003]) and microarray analyses (NARP; individuals with schizophrenia vs controls: 12.2% lower in layer 3 [P = .11] and 14.6% lower in layer 5 pyramidal cells [P = .001]). In schizophrenia specimens, NARP mRNA levels were positively correlated with GAD67 mRNA (r = 0.55; P < .001); the expression of GAD67 mRNA in parvalbumin interneurons is activity dependent. The NARP mRNA levels were also lower than healthy controls in bipolar disorder (-18.2%; F1,60 = 11.39; P = .001) and major depressive disorder (-21.7%; F1,30 = 5.36; P = .03) specimens, especially those from individuals with psychosis. In all 3 diagnostic groups, NARP mRNA levels were positively correlated (all r ≥ 0.53; all P ≤ .02) with somatostatin mRNA, the expression of which is activity dependent.


Given the role of NARP in the formation of excitatory inputs to parvalbumin (and perhaps somatostatin) interneurons, our findings suggest that lower NARP mRNA expression contributes to lower excitatory drive onto parvalbumin interneurons in schizophrenia. This reduced excitatory drive may lead to lower synthesis of γ-aminobutyric acid in these interneurons, contributing to a reduced capacity to generate the gamma oscillations required for working memory.

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