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A gene co-expression network in whole blood of schizophrenia patients is independent of antipsychotic-use and enriched for brain-expressed genes.

  • Author(s): de Jong, Simone
  • Boks, Marco PM
  • Fuller, Tova F
  • Strengman, Eric
  • Janson, Esther
  • de Kovel, Carolien GF
  • Ori, Anil PS
  • Vi, Nancy
  • Mulder, Flip
  • Blom, Jan Dirk
  • Glenthøj, Birte
  • Schubart, Chris D
  • Cahn, Wiepke
  • Kahn, René S
  • Horvath, Steve
  • Ophoff, Roel A
  • et al.
Abstract

Despite large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS), the underlying genes for schizophrenia are largely unknown. Additional approaches are therefore required to identify the genetic background of this disorder. Here we report findings from a large gene expression study in peripheral blood of schizophrenia patients and controls. We applied a systems biology approach to genome-wide expression data from whole blood of 92 medicated and 29 antipsychotic-free schizophrenia patients and 118 healthy controls. We show that gene expression profiling in whole blood can identify twelve large gene co-expression modules associated with schizophrenia. Several of these disease related modules are likely to reflect expression changes due to antipsychotic medication. However, two of the disease modules could be replicated in an independent second data set involving antipsychotic-free patients and controls. One of these robustly defined disease modules is significantly enriched with brain-expressed genes and with genetic variants that were implicated in a GWAS study, which could imply a causal role in schizophrenia etiology. The most highly connected intramodular hub gene in this module (ABCF1), is located in, and regulated by the major histocompatibility (MHC) complex, which is intriguing in light of the fact that common allelic variants from the MHC region have been implicated in schizophrenia. This suggests that the MHC increases schizophrenia susceptibility via altered gene expression of regulatory genes in this network.

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