BackgroundEvidence from anatomical, pharmacological, and genetic studies supports a role for the neuropeptide melanin concentrating hormone system in modulating emotional and cognitive functions. Genome-wide association studies revealed a potential association between the melanin concentrating hormone receptor (MCHR1) gene locus and schizophrenia, and the largest genome-wide association study conducted to date shows a credible genome-wide association.
MethodsWe analyzed MCHR1 and pro-melanin concentrating hormone RNA-Seq expression in the prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia patients and healthy controls. Disruptions in the melanin concentrating hormone system were modeled in the mouse brain by germline deletion of MCHR1 and by conditional ablation of melanin concentrating hormone expressing neurons using a Cre-inducible diphtheria toxin system.
ResultsMCHR1 expression is decreased in the prefrontal cortex of schizophrenia samples (false discovery rate (FDR) P < .05, CommonMind and PsychEncode combined datasets, n = 901) while pro-melanin concentrating hormone is below the detection threshold. MCHR1 expression decreased with aging (P = 6.6E-57) in human dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The deletion of MCHR1 was found to lead to behavioral abnormalities mimicking schizophrenia-like phenotypes: hyperactivity, increased stereotypic and repetitive behavior, social impairment, impaired sensorimotor gating, and disrupted cognitive functions. Conditional ablation of pro-melanin concentrating hormone neurons increased repetitive behavior and produced a deficit in sensorimotor gating.
ConclusionsOur study indicates that early disruption of the melanin concentrating hormone system interferes with neurodevelopmental processes, which may contribute to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Further neurobiological research on the developmental timing and circuits that are affected by melanin concentrating hormone may lead to a therapeutic target for early prevention of schizophrenia.