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DISC1 Delivers—Genetic, Molecular Studies Link Protein to Axonal Transport

12 January 2007. When both genetic and molecular studies link interacting proteins suspected of being involved in a specific disease, scientists can feel fairly confident that they have identified molecular machinations of pathological relevance. As such, DISC1 may have taken on increased importance in schizophrenia research. Three new studies, two molecular and one genetic, strengthen the case for the involvement of DISC1, and its partners, in the pathophysiology of this major psychiatric illness.

In the January 3 Journal of Neuroscience, Japanese researchers report that DISC1, or disrupted in schizophrenia, hitches a protein complex involved in neurodevelopment to the molecular motor that hauls cargo to the far ends of neuronal axons. In an early online publication on December 21, 2006, in Human Molecular Genetics, researchers in Finland report that in families affected by schizophrenia, there is a genetic association between DISC1 and a homolog of NudE-like (NUDEL), one member of the same protein complex. In a second Journal of Neuroscience paper, the Japanese group shows that DISC1 is also involved in shipping the protein Grb2, an intermediary between growth factor receptors and their downstream targets, out to axonal tips. Without DISC1, neurotrophin-3, one of only a few growth factors involved in neuronal survival, fails in one of its major roles—to induce elongation of axons. Together the three papers indicate that failures of axonal transport and hence poor maintenance of axonal tips, either during development or beyond, may be a key facet of schizophrenia.

DISCovered with Kinesin
Since disruption in the DISC1 gene was shown to strongly associate with schizophrenia and other major psychiatric illnesses, scientists have puzzled over the role of the protein product of the gene (see Millar et al., 2000). Some hints came when DISC1 was found to associate with a complex comprising NUDEL, lissencephaly-1 (LIS1), and 14-3-3ε, proteins that play key roles in neuronal development (see SRF related news story). Mutations in LIS1 cause lissencephaly, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, while LIS1/NUDEL are known to co-migrate into axonal growth cones. The protein 14-3-3ε appears to regulate the transport process by keeping NUDEL chemically modified by phosphorylation. But how DISC1 fits into the picture has been unclear. Now, Kozo Kaibuchi and colleagues at Nagoya University, Osaka City University, and the Protein Research Network, Yokohama, show that DISC1 anchors the NUDEL/LIS1/14-3-3ε complex to kinesin-1, the motor protein that ferries cargo in an anterograde fashion, from the cell body toward the distal end of axons.

First author Shinichiro Taya and colleagues used protein purification methods to identify cytosolic molecules from rat brain that bind to DISC1. After passing extracts through an affinity column made up of the protein, they found that in addition to NUDEL, LIS1, and 14-3-3ε, the kinesin heavy chain protein, KIF5B, had also bound to the affinity matrix. Subsequently, they also detected other kinesin components, including the KIF5A heavy chain and the kinesin light chain, KLC1 (kinesin comprises a tetramer of two heavy and two light chains). A few other proteins also bound to the DISC1 column, but the authors chose to examine the kinesin interaction in depth, given its role in axonal transport.

Using test tube experiments and purified proteins, the researchers found that DISC1 specifically binds to KIF5A and KIF5B, brain-specific heavy chain isoforms. Then, using immunoprecipitation, they determined that DISC1 forms a ternary complex with KIF5A and NUDEL, and also with NUDEL and 14-3-3ε. Using deletion mutants of DISC1, they determined that the N-terminal of the protein was sufficient to bind KIF5A but not NUDEL, whereas the C-terminal alone could bind NUDEL but not KIF5A. Taken together, these findings suggest that DISC1 serves as a link between KIF5A and NUDEL with the N-terminal end binding the former and the C-terminal binding the latter.

Discovered with Kinesin
Microscopic analysis shows that DISC1 and the heavy chain of kinesin-1, KIF5A, colocalize in the growth cones of hippocampal neurons. [Copyright 2007 by the Society for Neuroscience.]

To test the physiological relevance of these experiments, Taya and colleagues examined protein-protein interactions in cells. Using PC12 cells, they found that DISC1 coimmunoprecipitates with KIF5A and the NUDEL/LIS1/14-3-3ε proteins, indicating that they all bind under normal cellular conditions. Fluorescence microscopy showed that DISC1 colocalizes with the other proteins at the distal part of axons in primary hippocampal neurons. Using high magnification, the researchers were able to pin this localization down to mainly the central part of the axonal growth cone, suggesting that the complex formed by the components may have a role in axonal elongation. In support of this idea, Taya and colleagues found that when they used RNAi to silence gene expression in these same neurons, the length of the axons was reduced in cells where either DISC1 or NUDEL/LIS1 was ablated. Knockdown of DISC1 also reduced the amount of NUDEL/LIS1/14-3-3ε in the distal axon but not in the cell body. All told, the data suggest that a major role for DISC1 is to transport the NUDEL complex from the soma to the axonal tips where it helps to facilitate axonal elongation; this function may be compromised in people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.

A New Mode of Transport
By coupling the LIS1/NUDEL/14-3-3ε complex or Grb2 to kinesin, DISC1 may ensure that the proteins are transported from cell bodies towards the plus end of microtubules and hence the distal ends of axons. [Model courtesy of Kozo Kaibuchi, Nagoya, Japan]

DISCerned Through Genetics
The genetic association study conducted by the Finnish group, led by Leena Peltonen of the National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, adds further support to the link between DISC1, the LIS1 complex, and schizophrenia. First author William Hennah and colleagues, in Finland and the U.S., analyzed 443 genetic markers in 458 Finnish families with hereditary links to the disease. The analysis expands on previous data sets used to study schizophrenia, culminating in one of the largest genetic association studies to date. Analysis of this large data set confirmed a statistically significant association of the DISC1 locus to the illness. A second locus, on chromosome 5, also emerged (at 5q12.3) and is within a region previously discovered to harbor a potential susceptibility gene in Icelandic, British, and Canadian families (see Sherrington et al., 1988 and Bassett et al., 1988). But it was in looking for genetic interactions that Hennah and colleagues found a link between DISC1 and NUDE, or nuclear distribution gene E homolog 1 (NDE1), which, like its cousin NUDEL, forms complexes with LIS1 and DISC1.

Because schizophrenia is now widely believed to be a polygenic disorder, affected by variation in many genes, the researchers asked what new genetic associations might emerge from their data if they analyzed only those samples that were positive for schizophrenia-linked DISC1 variations. Since the authors had previously identified a DISC1 haplotype (HEP3, comprising two single nucleotide polymorphisms) that associates with the illness, they split the samples into HEP3-positive and HEP3-negative pools and reanalyzed for genetic markers. This time a marker on chromosome 16 emerged as being significantly linked to schizophrenia in the HEP3-positive set. Because the marker, at chromosome 16p13, lies extremely close to the NDE1 locus, the researchers analyzed the gene in more detail.

Hennah and colleagues analyzed seven known single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that account for genetic variation in the NDE1 gene. They found that all seven were inherited together in the same haploblock, which could be “tagged,” or identified, by four of the seven SNPs (see SRF related news story on haplotype analysis). The researchers found that this tag-haplotype and all the individual SNPs, in fact, associate with schizophrenia, but only in females affected by the illness. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that the DISC1 and NDE1 genes may conspire together in the etiology of the disease and support the molecular data linking DISC1 to the NUDEL(NUDE)/LIS1/14-3-3ε complex. “This convergence of multiple lines of evidence starts to implicate not just DISC1 but a ‘DISC1 pathway’ that also incorporates NDE1 and PDE4B in the etiology of schizophrenia, potentially through underlying deficits in learning and memory,” write the authors. PDE4B, or phosphodiesterase 4B, is another protein that binds to DISC1 and has been tentatively linked to schizophrenia (see SRF related news story).

Linked to Signal Transduction
The phosphodiesterase angle also fits with Kaibuchi and colleagues’ other finding, that DISC1 helps transport the growth factor adaptor protein, Grb2. Since PDE4B regulates levels of cyclic AMP, a major signal transduction molecule, and Grb2 modulates signals coming through extracellular neurotrophins, such as neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), the evidence points to DISC1 as having modulatory effects on different cellular signals.

The Grb2 connection comes from a piece of scientific sleuthing similar to that reported in Kaibuchi and colleagues’ first paper. In their other paper in the same issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, first author Tomoyasu Shinoda and colleagues reported that DISC1 also anchors Grb2 to kinesin, facilitating its transport to axonal tips. Furthermore, using the same RNAi treatment described above to ablate DISC1, Shinoda and colleagues found that Grb2 levels at axonal tips were reduced, as was NT-3-induced activation of both ERK kinase and axonal elongation. The decreased axonal elongation and normal levels of Grb2 could only be restored by adding back full-length DISC1 but not an engineered protein that fails to bind Grb2. The data indicate that DISC1 is necessary to transport Grb2 to axonal tips where it helps transduce neurotrophin signals that induce axonal elongation and, perhaps, promote cell survival. The Grb2 connection also suggests a role for DISC1 in growth factor-mediated synaptic formation and maintenance, both in development and adulthood.

It is not clear at exactly what stage of neural development these DISC1 interactions might impact the biology that leads to schizophrenia, but researchers in the field now have some new and interesting biology that can be exploited in the search for potential treatments.—Tom Fagan.

Taya S, Shinoda T, Tsuboi D, Asaki J, Nagai K, Hikita T, Kuroda S, Kuroda K, Shimizu M, Hirotsune S, Iwamatsu A, Kaibuchi K. DISC1 regulates the transport of the NUDEL/LIS1/14-3-3e complex through kinesin-1. J. Neurosci. January 3, 2007;27:15-26. Abstract

Hennah W, Tomppo L, Hiekkalinna T, Palo OM, Kilpinen H, Ekelund J, Tuulio-Henriksson A, Silander K, Partonen T, Paunio T, Terwilliger JD, Lonnqvist J, Peltonen L. Families with the risk allele of DISC1 reveal a link between schizophrenia and another component of the same molecular pathway, NDE1. Hum. Mol. Genet. December 21, 2006. Advance Access Publication. Abstract

Shinoda T, Taya S, Tsuboi D, Hikita T, Matsuzawa R, Kuroda S, Iwamatsu A, Kaibuchi K. DISC1 regulates neurotrophin-induced axon elongation via interaction with Grb2. J. Neurosci. January 3, 2007;27:4-14. Abstract

Comments on News and Primary Papers
Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 12 January 2007
Posted 12 January 2007

Although DISC1 is multifunctional, its role for neurite outgrowth has been substantially characterized for the past couple of years (Ozeki et al., 2003; Miyoshi et al., 2003; Kamiya et al., 2006). These studies indicated that DISC1 is involved in neurite outgrowth by more than one mechanism, such as interactions with NUDEL/NDEL1 and FEZ1.

These two papers from Kaibuchi’s lab provide further understanding of how DISC1 is involved in neuronal outgrowth. Kaibuchi’s group identified kinesin heavy chain of kinesin-1 as a novel interactor of DISC1. In their papers, a novel role for DISC1, to link kinesin-1 (microtubule-dependent and plus-end directed motor) to several cellular molecules, including NUDEL, LIS1, 14-3-3, and Grb2, is reported. DISC1 and kinesin-1 are, therefore, responsible to sort Grb2 to the distal part of axons where Grb2 functions as an adaptor and plays a role in NT-3-induced phosphorylation of ERK1/2. This mechanism well explains our previous work, led by Ryota Hashimoto, reporting that knockdown of DISC1 expression results in decreased levels of phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Akt in primary cortical neurons (Hashimoto et al., 2006).

The interaction of DISC1 and kinesin-1 may also be interesting from the perspective of psychiatric genetics. First, the mechanism proposed in one of the papers (Taya et al., 2007) supports the notion that the C-terminal truncated DISC1 fragment—that occurs due to the balanced translocation in an extended Scottish family—functions as a dominant-negative. Second, the domain of DISC1 responsible for kinesin-1 is overlapped with the haplotype block region(s) that are positive in more than one association study of DISC1 and major mental illnesses.

View all comments by Akira SawaComment by:  Luiz Miguel Camargo (Disclosure)
Submitted 13 January 2007
Posted 13 January 2007

Two recent back-to-back papers, published this month in Journal of Neuroscience, highlight the value of protein-protein interactions in determining the biological role of a key schizophrenia risk factor, DISC1, in processes that are important for the proper development of neurons.

Key questions need to be addressed once having established a set of interactors for a given protein. First, where do these proteins interact on the target molecule? Second, do these interactions take place at the same time (i.e., do they form a complex)? Third, in what context do these interactions occur (temporal, tissue/cell compartment, signaling), and, fourth, are the biological processes of the interacting molecules affected/regulated by the protein of interest? The Kaibuchi lab, as exemplified in the works by Taya et al. and Shinoda et al., elegantly address some of these questions in the context of DISC1 interactions with Grb2, Nudel (NDEL1), 14-3-3ε, and kinesin-1. The key findings of these papers are as follows:

1. Identification of the interaction sites, or more importantly, which part of DISC1 is involved in particular processes, for example, that axon elongation is dependent on the N-terminal, but not the C-terminal portion of DISC1. This suggests that the DISC1 role in axon elongation is mediated by interactions with the N-terminal portion of DISC1 that could be competed for by the truncated protein in a dominant negative fashion (Camargo et al., 2007).

2. Although a protein may have many interacting partners, such as DISC1, these interactions may not occur at the same time. For example, DISC1 is able to form a ternary complex with kinesin-1 and NDEL1 or with kinesin-1 and Grb2. However, a ternary complex of DISC1-Grb2-NDEL1 is not possible as Grb2 and NDEL1 may be competing for the same interaction site on DISC1.

3. Protein interactions may occur in certain cellular compartments, in the case of DISC1, the cell body and the distal part of axons.

4. Neurotrophin-induced axon elongation requires DISC1.

These papers confirm some of the hypotheses raised by the interactions that we have recently derived for DISC1 and some of its interacting partners (see Camargo et al., 2007). From the DISC1 interactome, we concluded that DISC1 may affect key intracellular transport mechanisms, such as those regulated by kinesins, and that DISC1 may be downstream of neurotrophin receptors, via its interaction with SH3BP5, an adaptor protein, which we found to interact with SOS1, a guanine exchange factor that binds Grb2 and responds to signaling of neurotrophin receptors. These observations have been validated by Taya et al. and Shinoda et al. and demonstrate the value of the DISC1 interactome in understanding the role of DISC1, and as a valuable resource to the wider community.

The molecular function of DISC1, as defined by its structure, still remains elusive, requiring a more dedicated effort on this front. The good news is that, via its protein-protein interactions, significant progress on the role of DISC1 in key biological processes has been achieved, as illustrated by the work of different labs (Brandon et. al., 2004; Millar et al., 2005; Kamiya et al., 2005; and now by Shinoda et al. and Taya et al.).

View all comments by Luiz Miguel Camargo

Comments on Related News

Related News: Charting Genetic Diversity—First Haplotype Map Appears

Comment by:  John Hardy
Submitted 1 November 2005
Posted 1 November 2005

With the completion of the HapMap and its commercialization by Illumina and Affymetrix, it should be possible for researchers to find susceptibility alleles which have an odds ratio of >2 for any disorder, including Alzheimer disease, over the next couple of years. The expense will be high: Sample sizes of about 500 cases and 500 controls will be needed, and the cost per sample is on the order of $900. But if there are anymore genes with the effect size of ApoE out there, for AD or other diseases, we should now be able to find them.

View all comments by John Hardy

Related News: Charting Genetic Diversity—First Haplotype Map Appears

Comment by:  Lars Bertram
Submitted 4 November 2005
Posted 4 November 2005

Q&A with Lars Bertram, who is developing the SchizophreniaGene database.

Q: Does the map provide enough resolution?
A: On average, the haplotype map has investigated about 1 SNP every 5,000 bases (i.e., 5 kb). For most applications this density should be sufficient to allow linkage disequilibrium mapping of common variants with at least moderate effects in genetically complex diseases. However, a phase 2 of the HapMap is planned which will probably more than quadruple this resolution.

Q: Will the HapMap help in complex diseases, where several variants on different chromosomes must interact, for example?
A: While the HapMap has many valuable uses in designing and interpreting future genetic association in AD and other diseases, it will unfortunately not help to better understand interactions between different genetic loci or non-genetic factors, because such interactions likely vary from phenotype to phenotype.

Q: Will the HapMap help in diseases where gene silencing, mRNA splicing, and other post-transcriptional and post-translational modifications are key to the pathophysiology?
A: If these pathophysiological changes are actually caused by common genetic variants in the genome, HapMap will definitely help us find them. It will still require a good number of experiments, though, to actually prove the causal relationship between associated SNPs on the one hand, and differences in mRNA splicing (for instance) on the other hand.

Q: Is the principle of tagging haplotypes scientifically sound, or does it run the risk of missing out on haplotypes that are low in frequency but high in consequence?
A: The principle of tagging haplotypes to cover untyped common genetic variants is certainly sound, and—with the data provided by the current HapMap release—has just become a whole lot easier. As everything in science, it does have limitations (such as finding very low-frequency polymorphisms or haplotypes). However, this is a rapidly evolving field and the planned phase 2 release of the HapMap, together with novel analytic strategies, should facilitate even the search for such uncommon variants in the near future.

View all comments by Lars Bertram

Related News: Charting Genetic Diversity—First Haplotype Map Appears

Comment by:  Stephen J. Glatt
Submitted 13 November 2005
Posted 13 November 2005

The completion of the HapMap is a major advance for science, and one which will particularly benefit the field of psychiatry. Schizophrenia research has been hampered by a failure to replicate genetic linkage and association studies, and this may in part owe to population differences in allele frequency, haplotype structure, and the inability to select the proper genes and polymorphisms for analysis. The HapMap reduces the "search space" for genetic markers that will show associations with complex diseases, like schizophrenia, across samples, and will thus facilitate the causal polymorphisms that may be shared across these populations. The completion of the first phase of the HapMap is not just important as a milestone marking progress in mapping the human genome, but also it is important for the enhanced level of scientific inquiry it can enable.

View all comments by Stephen J. Glatt

Related News: Messing with DISC1 Protein Disturbs Development, and More

Comment by:  Anil Malhotra, SRF Advisor
Submitted 21 November 2005
Posted 21 November 2005

The relationship between DISC1 and neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, has now been observed in several studies. Moreover, a number of studies have demonstrated that DISC1 appears to impact neurocognitive function. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms by which DISC1 could contribute to impaired CNS function are unclear, and these two papers shed light on this critical issue.

Millar et al. (2005) have followed the same strategy that they so successfully utilized in their initial DISC1 studies, identifying a translocation that associated with a psychotic illness. In contrast to DISC1, in which a pedigree was identified with a number of translocation carriers, this manuscript is based upon the identification of a single translocation carrier, who appears to manifest classic signs of schizophrenia, without evidence of mood dysregulation. Two genes are disrupted by this translocation: cadherin 8 and phosphodiesterase 4B (PDE4B). The researchers' elegant set of experiments provides compelling biological evidence that PDE4B interacts with DISC1 and suggests a mechanism mediated by cAMP for DISC1/PDE4B effects on basic molecular processes underlying learning, memory, and perhaps psychosis. It remains possible that PDE4B (and DISC1) are proteins fundamentally involved in cognitive processes, and that the observed relationship to psychotic illnesses represents a final common pathway of neurocognitive impairment. This would be consistent with data from our group (Lencz et al., in press) demonstrating that verbal memory impairment specifically predicts onset of psychosis in at-risk subjects. Similarly, Burdick et al. (2005) found that our DISC1 risk genotypes (Hodgkinson et al., 2004) were associated with impaired verbal working memory. Finally, Callicott et al. (2005) found that a DISC1 risk SNP, Ser704Cys, predicted hippocampal dysfunction, an SNP which we (DeRosse et al., unpublished data) have also found to link with the primary psychotic symptoms (persecutory delusions) manifested by the patient in the Millar et al. study. This body of evidence supports the notion that these proteins play fundamental roles in the key clinical manifestations of schizophrenia.

Kamiya et al. (2005) provide another potential mechanism for these effects, suggesting that a DISC1 mutation may disrupt cerebral cortical development, hinting that studies examining the role of DISC1 genotypes on brain structure and function in the at-risk schizophrenia pediatric patients may be fruitful.

Taken together, these papers add considerable new data suggesting that DISC1 plays a key role in the etiology of schizophrenia, and places DISC1 at the forefront of the rapidly growing body of schizophrenia candidate genes.

Burdick KE, Hodgkinson CA, Szeszko PR, Lencz T, Ekholm JM, Kane JM, Goldman D, Malhotra AK. DISC1 and neurocognitive function in schizophrenia. Neuroreport 2005; 16(12):1399-1402. Abstract

Callicott JH, Straub RE, Pezawas L, Egan MF, Mattay VS, Hariri AR, Verchinski BA, Meyer-Lindenberg A, Balkissoon R, Kolachana B, Goldberg TE, Weinberger DR. Variation in DISC1 affects hippocampal structure and function and increases risk for schizophrenia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2005; 102(24): 8627-8632. Abstract

Hodgkinson CA, Goldman D, Jaeger J, Persaud S, Kane JM, Lipsky RH, Malhotra AK. Disrupted in Schizophrenia (DISC1): Association with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Am J Hum Genet 2004; 75:862-872. Abstract

Lencz T, Smith CW, McLaughlin D, Auther A, Nakayama E, Hovey L, Cornblatt BA. Generalized and specific neurocognitive deficits in prodromal schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry (in press).

View all comments by Anil Malhotra

Related News: Messing with DISC1 Protein Disturbs Development, and More

Comment by:  Angus Nairn
Submitted 29 December 2005
Posted 31 December 2005
  I recommend the Primary Papers

This study describes an interesting genetic link between PDE4B (phosphodiesterase 4B) and schizophrenia that may be related to a physical interaction with DISC1 (disrupted in schizophrenia 1), another gene associated with the psychiatric disorder. The study is highly suggestive of a role for the PDE4B/DISC1 complex in schizophrenia. However, the mechanistic model suggested by the authors whereby DISC1 sequesters PDE4B in an inactive state seems overly speculative, given the results presented in this paper and in prior studies that have examined the regulation of PDE4B by phosphorylation in the absence of DISC1.

View all comments by Angus Nairn

Related News: Messing with DISC1 Protein Disturbs Development, and More

Comment by:  Patricia Estani
Submitted 2 January 2006
Posted 2 January 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Messing with DISC1 Protein Disturbs Development, and More

Comment by:  Ali Mohammad Foroughmand
Submitted 16 December 2006
Posted 16 December 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Working Memory—Adrenoreceptors and DISC1 in the Same cAMP?

Comment by:  Joseph Friedman
Submitted 11 May 2007
Posted 11 May 2007

Cognitive symptoms have emerged as an independent feature of schizophrenia that needs to be targeted for treatment independent of more well-known symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Indeed, the level of impairment in cognitive abilities is one of the strongest predictors of impaired adaptive life skills in patients with schizophrenia. The prefrontal cortex, critical for cognitive abilities such as working memory and executive functions, is well established to be dysfunctional in patients with schizophrenia. Although the significance of dopamine-related changes to the prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia has been extensively studied, noradrenergic changes are also important, but often overlooked. Moreover, second-generation antipsychotics, which partially address the reduced prefrontal dopamine activity in patients with schizophrenia, have only modest effects on the cognitive impairments associated with schizophrenia.

Alpha-2 noradrenergic agonists, such as the antihypertensive drug guanfacine, increase noradrenergic activity in the prefrontal cortex. Evidence demonstrating cognitive-enhancing effects of guanfacine on cognitive abilities related to the prefrontal cortex in both animals and healthy human subjects suggests a potential role for guanfacine in treating some of the cognitive impairments of schizophrenia. Although limited, there is some evidence in support of cognitive enhancing effects of guanfacine in patients with schizophrenia (Friedman et al., 2001). Our current clinical trial seeks to determine the reproducibility of these preliminary results and assess the potential effects of guanfacine on the adaptive life skills of patients with schizophrenia. This study is being conducted in the New York State Mental Health System, specifically at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center (Mount Sinai Hospital is the sponsor) and at the Bronx Veterans Administration Medical Center (the sponsor is the VISN3 MIRECC). We expect results by end of year 2008.

Should guanfacine be effective, my plan would be to try to obtain federal funding for a larger multi-site study of guanfacine in combination with either a social skills or cognitive skills rehabilitation program. However, even if proven effective, it is important to keep in mind that any potential guanfacine effects will be limited to cognitive abilities associated with the prefrontal cortex. As data from animal models and healthy human subjects indicate, guanfacine will most likely be ineffective in addressing important cognitive symptoms related to temporal lobe changes in schizophrenia.

View all comments by Joseph Friedman

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Barbara K. Lipska
Submitted 9 September 2007
Posted 9 September 2007

Several recent studies on disruptions of the DISC1 gene in mice illustrate the great potential of genetic approaches to studying functions of putative schizophrenia susceptibility genes but also signal the complexity of the problem. An initial rationale for studying the effects of mutations in DISC1 came from the discovery of the chromosomal translocation, resulting in a breakpoint in the DISC1 gene that co-segregated with major mental illness in a Scottish family (reviewed by Porteous et al., 2006). These clinical findings were followed by a number of association studies, which reported that numerous SNPs across the gene were associated with schizophrenia and mood disorders and a variety of intermediate phenotypes, suggesting that other problems in the DISC1 gene may exist in other subjects/populations.

Recent animal models designed to mimic partial loss of DISC1 function suggested that DISC1 is necessary to support development of the cerebral cortex as its loss resulted in impaired neurite outgrowth and the spectrum of behavioral abnormalities characteristic of major mental disorders ( Kamiya et al., 2005; Koike et al., 2006; Clapcote et al., 2007; Hikida et al. 2007). Unexpectedly, however, the paper by Duan et al., 2007, is showing that DISC1 may also function as a brake and master regulator of neuronal development, and that its partial loss could lead to the opposite effects than previously described, i.e., dendritic overgrowth and accelerated synapse formation and faster maturation of newly generated neurons. In contrast to previous studies, they have used the DISC1 knockdown model achieved by RNA interference in a subpopulation of single cells of the dentate gyrus. Other emerging studies continue to reveal the highly complex nature of the DISC1 gene with multiple isoforms exhibiting different functions, perhaps depending on localization, timing, and interactions with a multitude of other genes’ products, some of which confer susceptibility to mental illness independent of DISC1. Similar molecular complexity has also emerged in other susceptibility genes for schizophrenia: GRM3 (Sartorius et al., 2006), NRG1 (Tan et al., 2007), and COMT (Tunbridge et al., 2007). With the growing knowledge about transcript complexity, it becomes increasingly clear that subtle disturbances of isoform(s) of susceptibility gene products and disruptions of intricate interactions between the susceptibility genes may account for the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders. Research in animals will have a critical role in disentangling this web of interwoven genetic pathways.

View all comments by Barbara K. Lipska

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 13 September 2007
Posted 13 September 2007

I am very glad that our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University have published a very intriguing paper in Cell, showing a novel role for DISC1 in adult hippocampus. This is very consistent with previous publications (Miyoshi et al., 2003; Kamiya et al., 2005; and others; reviewed by Ishizuka et al., 2006), and adds a new insight into a key role for DISC1 during neurodevelopment. In short, DISC1 is a very important regulator in various phases of neurodevelopment, which is reinforced in this study. Specifically, DISC1 is crucial for regulating neuronal migration and dendritic development—for acceleration in the developing cerebral cortex, and for braking in the adult hippocampus.

There is precedence for signaling molecules playing the same role in different contexts, with the resulting molecular activity going in different directions. For example, FOXO3 (a member of the Forkhead transcription factor family) plays a role in cell survival/death in a bidirectional manner (Brunet et al., 2004). FOXO3 endows cells with resistance to oxidative stress in some contexts, and induces apoptosis in other contexts. SIRT1 (known as a key modulator of organismal lifespan) deacetylates FOXO3 and tips FOXO3-dependent responses away from apoptosis and toward stress resistance. In analogy to FOXO3, context-dependent post-translational modifications, such as phosphorylation, may be an underlying mechanism for DISC1 to function in a bidirectional manner. Indeed, a collaborative team at Johns Hopkins, including Pletnikov's lab, Song's lab, and ours, has started exploring, in both cell and animal models, the molecular switch that makes DISC1's effects bidirectional.


Brunet A, Sweeney LB, Sturgill JF, Chua KF, Greer PL, Lin Y, Tran H, Ross SE, Mostoslavsky R, Cohen HY, Hu LS, Cheng HL, Jedrychowski MP, Gygi SP, Sinclair DA, Alt FW, Greenberg ME. Stress-dependent regulation of FOXO transcription factors by the SIRT1 deacetylase. Science. 2004 Mar 26;303(5666):2011-5. Abstract

View all comments by Akira Sawa

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Sharon Eastwood
Submitted 14 September 2007
Posted 14 September 2007

Recent findings, including the interactome study by Camargo et al., 2007, and this beautiful study by Duan and colleagues, implicate DISC1 (a leading candidate schizophrenia susceptibility gene) in synaptic function, consistent with prevailing ideas of the disorder as one of the synapse and connectivity (see Stephan et al., 2006). As we learn more about DISC1 and its protein partners, evidence demonstrating the importance of microtubules in the regulation of several neuronal processes (see Eastwood et al., 2006, for review) suggests that DISC1’s interactions with microtubule associated proteins (MAPs) may underpin its pathogenic influence.

DISC1 has been shown to bind to several MAPs (e.g., MAP1A, MIPT3) and other proteins important in regulating microtubule function (see Kamiya et al., 2005; Porteous et al., 2006). As a key component of the cell cytoskeleton, microtubules are involved in many cellular processes including mitosis, motility, vesicle transport, and morphology, and their dynamics are regulated by MAPs, which modulate microtubule polymerization, stability, and arrangement. Decreased microtubule stability in mutant mice for one MAP, stable tubule only polypeptide (STOP; MAP6), results in behavioral changes relevant to schizophrenia and altered synaptic protein expression (Andrieux et al., 2002; Eastwood et al., 2006), indicating the importance of microtubules in synaptic function and suggesting that they may be a molecular mechanism contributing to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Likewise, DISC1 mutant mice exhibit behavioral alterations characteristic of psychiatric disorders (e.g., Clapcote et al., 2007), and altered microtubule dynamics are thought to underlie perturbations in cerebral cortex development and neurite outgrowth caused by decreased DISC1 expression or that of a schizophrenia-associated DISC1 mutation (Kamiya et al., 2005).

Our interpretation of the possible functions of DISC1 has been complicated by the unexpected findings of Duan and colleagues that DISC1 downregulation during adult hippocampal neurogenesis leads to overextended neuronal migration and accelerated dendritic outgrowth and synaptic formation. In terms of neuronal positioning, they suggest that their results indicate that DISC1 may relay positional signals to the intracellular machinery, rather than directly mediate migration. In this way, decreased DISC1 expression may result in the mispositioning of newly formed neurons rather than a simple decrease or increase in their migratory distance. Of note, MAP1B, a neuron-specific MAP important in regulating microtubule stability and the crosstalk between microtubules and actin, is required for neurons to correctly respond to netrin 1 signaling during neuronal migration and axonal guidance (Del Rio et al., 2004), and DISC1 may function similarly during migration. Reconciling differences between the effect of decreased DISC1 expression upon neurite outgrowth during neurodevelopment and adult neurogenesis is more difficult, but could be due to differences in the complement of MAPs expressed by different neuronal populations at different times. Regardless, the results of Duan and colleagues have provided additional evidence implicating DISC1 in neuronal functions thought to go awry in schizophrenia. Further characterization of DISC1’s interactions with microtubules and MAPs may lead to a better understanding of the role of DISC1 in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders.


Andrieux A, Salin PA, Vernet M, Kujala P, Baratier J, Gory Faure S, Bosc C, Pointu H, Proietto D, Schweitzer A, Denarier E, Klumperman J, Job D (2002). The suppression of brain cold-stable microtubules in mice induces synaptic deficits associated with neuroleptic-sensitive behavioural disorders. Genes Dev. 16: 2350-2364. Abstract

Camargo LM, Collura V, Rain JC, Mizuguchi K, Hermjakob H, Kerrien S, Bonnert TP, Whiting PJ, Brandon NJ (2007). Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 Interactome: evidence for the close connectivity of risk genes and a potential synaptic basis for schizophrenia. Mol. Psychiatry 12: 74-86. Abstract

Clapcote SJ, Lipina TV, Millar JK, Mackie S, Christie S, Ogawa F, Lerch JP, Trimble K, Uchiyama M, Sakuraba Y, Kaneda H, Shiroishi T, Houslay MD, Henkelman RM, Sled JG, Gondo Y, Porteous DJ, Roder JC (2007). Behavioral phenotypes of Disc1 missense mutations in mice. Neuron 54: 387-402. Abstract

Del Rio, J.A., Gonzalez-Billault, C., Urena, J.M., Jimenez, E.M., Barallobre, M.J., Pascual, M., Pujadas, L., Simo, S., La Torre, A., Wandosell, F., Avila, J. and Soriano, E. (2004). MAP1B is required for netrin 1 signaling in neuronal migration and axonal guidance. Cur. Biol. 14: 840-850. Abstract

Eastwood SL, Lyon L, George L, Andrieux A, Job D, Harrison PJ (2006). Altered expression of synaptic protein mRNAs in STOP (MAP6) mutant mice. J. Psychopharm. 21: 635-644. Abstract

Kamiya A, Kubo K, Tomoda T, Takaki M, Youn R, Ozeki Y, Sawamura N, Park U, Kudo C, Okawa M, Ross CA, Hatten ME, Nakajima K, Sawa A. A schizophrenia-associated mutation of DISC1 perturbs cerebral cortex development. Nat Cell Biol. 2005 Dec;7(12):1167-78. Epub 2005 Nov 20. Erratum in: Nat Cell Biol. 2006 Jan;8(1):100. Abstract

Porteous DJ, Thomson P, Brandon NJ, Millar JK (2006). The genetics and biology of DISC1-an emerging role in psychosis and cognition. Biol. Psychiatry 60: 123-131. Abstract

Stephan KE, Baldeweg T, Friston KJ (2006). Synaptic plasticity and disconnection in schizophrenia. Biol. Psychiatry 59: 929-939. Abstract

View all comments by Sharon Eastwood

Related News: DISC1 Fragment Ties Schizophrenia-like Symptoms to Development in Mice

Comment by:  John Roder
Submitted 30 November 2007
Posted 30 November 2007

Some observations on the new report by Li and colleagues: this work is the first to map subregions of DISC1 and to show that a region that binds Nudel and LIS1 is important in generating schizophrenia-like perturbations in vivo. The authors express DISC1 C-terminus in mice, which interacts with Nudel and LIS1. They showed less native mouse DISC1 associations with Nudel mouse following gene induction. This suggests a dominant-negative mechanism.

No data was shown on native DISC1 levels following induction. Work from the Sawa lab shows that if murine DISC1 levels are reduced in non-engineered mice using RNAi, severe perturbations in development of nervous system are seen (Kamiya et al., 2005); however, behavior was not measured in this study. Severe perturbations would be expected based on the neonatal ventral hippocampal lesion model. In this latter model early brain lesions lead to later impairments in PPI and other behaviors consistent with schizophrenic-like behavior.

They use a promoter only expressed in the forebrain, so it is puzzling they see expression in the cerebellum. Expressed DISC1 bound to endogenous mouse Nudel and LIS1, presumably exerting a dominant-negative effect. Induction of the C-terminus DISC1 at day 7, but not in the adult, led to deficits in working memory, the forced swim test, and sociability. It would have been reassuring if these tasks were validated using antipsychotics and antidepressants. It is not clear in this study why the female C57 was used as a standard opponent mouse, and what genders of DISC1 mice have been used. Even though young C57 females (6 weeks old) were used as neutral partners, the data might be interpreted also as impaired sexual motivation in DISC1-Tg-Tm7 mice.

The authors made an attempt to translate their mouse data (low sociability) into a human population and found an association between DISC1 haplotypes and social impairments in a Finnish population (n = 232 samples), which supports a DISC1 role in social behavior, one of schizophrenia's symptoms. It would be useful to distinguish deficits in social interactions and impaired sexual behavior.

Deficits in working memory are also an important schizophrenia endophenotype, and it would be interesting to measure how specific the cognitive deficit is in DISC1-Tg-Tm-7 mice, estimating associative memory in classical fear conditioning, for example.

Induction of the transgene early in development to day 7 resulted in small changes in dendritic complexity in granule cells in the dentate gyrus. It is surprising larger changes were not observed. The role of DISC1 in the adult self-renewing progenitor cells in the dentate switches, so that DISC1 acts as a brake for dendritic complexity and migration (Duan et al., 2007). Thus, reductions in DISC1 in the adult dentate gyrus granule cells lead to enhanced dendrite growth/complexity.

In the adult, DISC1 was shown to interact with Nudel in controlling adult neurogenesis and development. It is of interest that in the Li et al. paper the transgene also perturbs native DISC1 binding to Nudel at day 7 but not adult. Synaptic transmission was reduced in CA1. It would have been nice to see a recording from dentate granule cells in which changes in dendritic complexity were found.


Kamiya A, Kubo K, Tomoda T, Takaki M, Youn R, Ozeki Y, Sawamura N, Park U, Kudo C, Okawa M, Ross CA, Hatten ME, Nakajima K, Sawa A. A schizophrenia-associated mutation of DISC1 perturbs cerebral cortex development. Nat Cell Biol. 2005 Dec 1;7(12):1167-78. Abstract

Duan X, Chang JH, Ge S, Faulkner RL, Kim JY, Kitabatake Y, Liu XB, Yang CH, Jordan JD, Ma DK, Liu CY, Ganesan S, Cheng HJ, Ming GL, Lu B, Song H. Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Cell. 2007 Sep 21;130(6):1146-58. Abstract

View all comments by John Roder

Related News: DISC1 Fragment Ties Schizophrenia-like Symptoms to Development in Mice

Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 3 December 2007
Posted 3 December 2007

DISC1 may be a promising entry point to explore important disease pathways for schizophrenia and related mental conditions; thus, animal models that can provide us with insights into the pathways involving DISC1 may be helpful. In this sense, the new animal model reported by Li et al. (Silva and Cannon’s group at UCLA) has great significance in this field.

They made mice expressing a short domain of DISC1 that may block interaction of DISC1 with a set of protein interactors, including NUDEL/NDEL1 and LIS1. This approach, if the domain is much shorter, will be an important methodology in exploring the disease pathways based on protein interactions. Although the manuscript is excellent, and appropriate as the first report, the domain expressed in the transgenic mice can interact with more than 30-40 proteins, and the phenotypes that the authors observed might not be attributable to the disturbance of protein interactions of DISC1 and NUDEL or LIS1.

Now we have at least five different types of animal models for DISC1, all of which have unique advantages and disadvantages: 1) mice with a spontaneous mutation in an exon, which seem to lack some, but not all, DISC1 isoforms, from Gogos’s lab (see Koike et al., 2006; Ishizuka et al., 2007); 2) mice with mutations induced by a mutagen from Roder’s lab (Clapcote et al., 2007); 3) transgenic mice that express a dominant-negative mutant DISC1 from Sawa’s lab (Hikida et al., 2007); 4) transgenic mice that express a dominant-negative mutant DISC1 in an inducible manner from Pletkinov’s lab (Pletnikov et al., 2007); and 5) the mice from Silva’s and Cannon’s labs.

It is impossible to reach a firm conclusion on how the Scottish mutation of the DISC1 gene leads to molecular dysfunction until the data from autopsied brains of patients in the Scottish family become available. Millar and colleagues have published data of DISC1 in lymphoblastoid cells from the family members and propose an intriguing suggestion of how DISC1 is potentially disturbed in the pedigree (Millar et al., 2005); however, this remains in the realm of hypothesis/suggestion from peripheral cells. Thus, it is very important to compare the various types of DISC1 animal models in approaching how disturbance of DISC1 in brain leads to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and related disorders.


Koike H, Arguello PA, Kvajo M, Karayiorgou M, Gogos JA. Disc1 is mutated in the 129S6/SvEv strain and modulates working memory in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 7;103(10):3693-7. Abstract

Ishizuka K, Chen J, Taya S, Li W, Millar JK, Xu Y, Clapcote SJ, Hookway C, Morita M, Kamiya A, Tomoda T, Lipska BK, Roder JC, Pletnikov M, Porteous D, Silva AJ, Cannon TD, Kaibuchi K, Brandon NJ, Weinberger DR, Sawa A. Evidence that many of the DISC1 isoforms in C57BL/6J mice are also expressed in 129S6/SvEv mice. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Oct ;12(10):897-9. Abstract

Clapcote SJ, Lipina TV, Millar JK, Mackie S, Christie S, Ogawa F, Lerch JP, Trimble K, Uchiyama M, Sakuraba Y, Kaneda H, Shiroishi T, Houslay MD, Henkelman RM, Sled JG, Gondo Y, Porteous DJ, Roder JC. Behavioral phenotypes of Disc1 missense mutations in mice. Neuron. 2007 May 3;54(3):387-402. Abstract

Hikida T, Jaaro-Peled H, Seshadri S, Oishi K, Hookway C, Kong S, Wu D, Xue R, Andradé M, Tankou S, Mori S, Gallagher M, Ishizuka K, Pletnikov M, Kida S, Sawa A. Dominant-negative DISC1 transgenic mice display schizophrenia-associated phenotypes detected by measures translatable to humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Sep 4;104(36):14501-6. Abstract

Pletnikov MV, Ayhan Y, Nikolskaia O, Xu Y, Ovanesov MV, Huang H, Mori S, Moran TH, Ross CA. Inducible expression of mutant human DISC1 in mice is associated with brain and behavioral abnormalities reminiscent of schizophrenia. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Sep 11; Abstract

Millar JK, Pickard BS, Mackie S, James R, Christie S, Buchanan SR, Malloy MP, Chubb JE, Huston E, Baillie GS, Thomson PA, Hill EV, Brandon NJ, Rain JC, Camargo LM, Whiting PJ, Houslay MD, Blackwood DH, Muir WJ, Porteous DJ. DISC1 and PDE4B are interacting genetic factors in schizophrenia that regulate cAMP signaling. Science. 2005 Nov 18;310(5751):1187-91. Abstract

View all comments by Akira Sawa

Related News: DISC1 Fragment Ties Schizophrenia-like Symptoms to Development in Mice

Comment by:  David J. Porteous, SRF Advisor
Submitted 21 December 2007
Posted 22 December 2007

On the DISC1 bus
You wait ages for a bus, then a string of them come one behind the other. First, Koike et al. (2006) reported that the 129 strain of mouse had a small detection of the DISC1 gene and this was associated with a deficit on a learning task. The interpretation of this observation was somewhat complicated by the subsequent recognition that the majority, if not all, major DISC1 isoforms are unaffected by the deletion, but this needs further work (Ishizuka et al., 2007). Then, Clapcote et al. (2007) provided a very detailed characterization of two independent ENU-induced mouse missense mutations of DISC1, showing selective brain shrinkage and marked behavioral abnormalities that in one mutant were schizophrenia-like, the other more akin to mood disorder. Importantly, these phenotypes could be differentially rescued by antipsychotics or antidepressants. The main finger pointed to disruption of the interaction with PDE4 to misregulate cAMP signaling (Millar et al., 2005; Murdoch et al., 2007).

Then, back-to-back came two variants of DISC1 transgenic models from Johns Hopkins University (Pletnikov et al., 2007; Hikida et al., 2007) (see also SCZ Forum). Both Pletnikov and Hikida overexpressed a truncated form of DISC1 under the control of the CaMKII promoter (in Pletnikov’s case with an inducible CaMKU promoter). Both groups reported brain structural and behavioral abnormalities that aligned rather nicely with the earlier work of Clapcote et al. (2007). Pletnikov et al. showed that neurite outgrowth was attenuated in primary cortical neurons. They also showed that endogenous DISC1, LIS1, and SNAP25, but not NDEL1 or PSD-95, was reduced in mouse forebrain.

Now, Li et al. (2007) introduce yet another transgenic DISC1 model mouse, this time overexpressing a carboxy tail fragment of DISC1, so the opposite end of the DISC1 molecule from that overexpressed by Pletnikov and by Hikida. Intriguingly, Li et al. (as with all the preceding models) report significant behavioral differences for wild-type littermates. The point of added interest and significance here is that by using an inducible transgenic construct, they could elicit behavioral abnormalities if carboxy terminal DISC1 was expressed on postnatal day 7 only, but not in adult life. What are we to make of this and how do the models align? Li et al. interpret their results to suggest that DISC1 plays a crucial role, through NDEL1 and LIS1, in postnatal (but not adult) brain development. This study obviously raises some key questions. What is the developmental window of DISC1 effect? How can the lack of effect in the adult be reconciled with the rather striking effect on neurogenesis consequent upon downregulation of DISC1 in the adult mouse brain reported by Duan et al. (2007). And if overexpressing 5’ (Hikida, Pletnikov) or 3’ constructs (Li) can elicit similar phenotypes as seen in ENU-induced missense variants within exon 2 (Clapcote), can we come up with a unifying explanation? Perhaps not yet, but these various mouse models certainly emphasize the value of a multi-pronged mouse modeling approach. Combinations of “null,” transgenic, inducible, and missense mutants will help dissect the underlying processes. These studies also suggest that a variety of DISC1 variants in humans might elicit rather similar and also subtly different phenotypes. Indeed, Li et al. try to link their findings on the mouse to human studies, but here I feel there is cause for caution. The genetic association referred to maps to a haplotype in a quite distinct region of DISC1 and the direct or indirect functional effect of the haplotype is far from clear. It is, however, conceptually unlikely that this risk haplotype has a specific or restricted effect on Nudel and/or Lis1 binding. The corollary between a genetic association for a selected, but poorly defined sub-phenotype of schizophrenia with a poorly defined behavioral phenotype in the mouse may be a corollary too far too soon. Finally, whereas the focus of attention by Li, Pletnikov, and Hikida has been on the well-established/neurodevelopmental role of NDEL1 (and LIS1), the potential role of PDE4B both in neurosignaling (related to behavior, learning, and memory) and possibly also neurodevelopment should not be overlooked. In this regard it is noteworthy that PDE4 interacts both with the head and the carboxy tail domain of DISC1 (Hannah et al., 2007) and this most likely contributes to the phenotype in all the models described to date.


Clapcote SJ, Lipina TV, Millar JK, Mackie S, Christie S, Ogawa F, Lerch JP, Trimble K, Uchiyama M, Sakuraba Y, Kaneda H, Shiroishi T, Houslay MD, Henkelman RM, Sled JG, Gondo Y, Porteous DJ, Roder JC. Behavioral phenotypes of Disc1 missense mutations in mice. Neuron. 2007 May 3;54(3):387-402. Abstract

Hikida T, Jaaro-Peled H, Seshadri S, Oishi K, Hookway C, Kong S, Wu D, Xue R, Andradé M, Tankou S, Mori S, Gallagher M, Ishizuka K, Pletnikov M, Kida S, Sawa A. Dominant-negative DISC1 transgenic mice display schizophrenia-associated phenotypes detected by measures translatable to humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Sep 4;104(36):14501-6. Abstract

Ishizuka K, Chen J, Taya S, Li W, Millar JK, Xu Y, Clapcote SJ, Hookway C, Morita M, Kamiya A, Tomoda T, Lipska BK, Roder JC, Pletnikov M, Porteous D, Silva AJ, Cannon TD, Kaibuchi K, Brandon NJ, Weinberger DR, Sawa A. Evidence that many of the DISC1 isoforms in C57BL/6J mice are also expressed in 129S6/SvEv mice. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Oct 1;12(10):897-9. Abstract

Koike H, Arguello PA, Kvajo M, Karayiorgou M, Gogos JA. Disc1 is mutated in the 129S6/SvEv strain and modulates working memory in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 7;103(10):3693-7. Abstract

Li W, Zhou Y, Jentsch JD, Brown RA, Tian X, Ehninger D, Hennah W, Peltonen L, Lönnqvist J, Huttunen MO, Kaprio J, Trachtenberg JT, Silva AJ, Cannon TD. Specific developmental disruption of disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 function results in schizophrenia-related phenotypes in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Nov 13;104(46):18280-5. Abstract

Millar JK, James R, Christie S, Porteous DJ. Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1): subcellular targeting and induction of ring mitochondria. Mol Cell Neurosci. 2005 Dec 1;30(4):477-84. Abstract

Duan X, Chang JH, Ge S, Faulkner RL, Kim JY, Kitabatake Y, Liu XB, Yang CH, Jordan JD, Ma DK, Liu CY, Ganesan S, Cheng HJ, Ming GL, Lu B, Song H. Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Cell. 2007 Sep 21;130(6):1146-58. Abstract

Murdoch H, Mackie S, Collins DM, Hill EV, Bolger GB, Klussmann E, Porteous DJ, Millar JK, Houslay MD. Isoform-selective susceptibility of DISC1/phosphodiesterase-4 complexes to dissociation by elevated intracellular cAMP levels. J Neurosci. 2007 Aug 29;27(35):9513-24. Abstract

Pletnikov MV, Ayhan Y, Nikolskaia O, Xu Y, Ovanesov MV, Huang H, Mori S, Moran TH, Ross CA. Inducible expression of mutant human DISC1 in mice is associated with brain and behavioral abnormalities reminiscent of schizophrenia. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Sep 11; [Epub ahead of print] Abstract

View all comments by David J. Porteous

Related News: Copy-number Variants, Interacting Alleles, or Both?

Comment by:  David J. Porteous, SRF Advisor
Submitted 11 February 2009
Posted 12 February 2009

The answer is unequivocally, “yes”
In co-highlighting the papers from Need et al., 2009, and Tomppo et al., 2009, you pose the question “CNV’s, interacting loci or both?” to which my immediate answer is an unequivocal “yes,” but it actually goes further than that. These two studies, interesting in their own rights, add just two more pieces of evidence now accumulated from case only, case-control, and family-based linkage on the genetic architecture of schizophrenia. Thus, we can reject with confidence a single evolutionary and genetic origin for schizophrenia. If it were so, it would have been found already by the plethora of genomewide studies now completed, studies specifically designed to detect causal variants, should they exist, which are both common to most if not all subjects and ancient in origin—the Common Disease, Common Variant (CDCV) hypothesis.

Moreover, for DISC1, NRG1, NRXN1, and a few others, the criteria for causality are met in some subjects, but none of these is the sole cause of schizophrenia. Their net contributions to individual and population risk remain uncertain and await large scale resequencing as well as SNP and CNV studies to capture the totality of genetic variation and how that contributes to the incidence of major mental illness. Meanwhile, nosological and epidemiological evidence has also forced a re-evaluation of the categorical distinction between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, let alone schizoaffective disorder (Lichtenstein et al., 2009).

In this regard, DISC1 serves again as an instructive paradigm, with good evidence for genetic association to schizophrenia, BP, schizoaffective disorder, and beyond (Chubb et al., 2008). The study by Hennah et al. (2008) added a further nuance to the DISC1 story by demonstrating intra-allelic interaction. Tomppo et al. (2009) now build upon their earlier evidence to show that DISC1 variants affect subcomponents of the psychiatric phenotype, treated now as a quantitative than a dichotomous trait. In much the same way and just as would be predicted, DISC1 variation also contributes to normal variation in human brain development and behavior (e.g., Callicott et al., 2005). Self-evidently, different classes of genetic variants (SNP or CNV, regulatory or coding) will have different biological and therefore psychiatric consequences (Porteous, 2008).

That Need et al. (2009) failed to replicate previous genomewide association studies (or find support for DISC1, NRG1, and the rest) is just further proof, if any were needed, that there is extensive genetic heterogeneity and that common variants of ancient origin are not major determinants of individual or population risk (Porteous, 2008). Variable penetrance, expressivity, and gene-gene interaction (epistasis) all need to be considered, but these intrinsic aspects of genetic influence are best addressed by family studies (currently lacking for CNV studies) and poorly addressed by large-scale case-control genomewide association studies. Power to test the CDCV hypothesis may increase with increasing numbers of subjects, but so does the inherent heterogeneity, both genetic and diagnostic.

That said, genetics is without doubt the most incisive tool we have to dissect the etiology of major mental illness. The criteria for success (and certainly for causality, rather than mere correlation) must be less about the number of noughts after the “p” and much more about the connection between candidate gene, gene variant, and the biological consequences for brain development and function. In this regard, both studies have something to say and offer.


Lichtenstein P, Yip BH, Björk C, Pawitan Y, Cannon TD, Sullivan PF, Hultman CM. Common genetic determinants of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in Swedish families: a population-based study. 2009 Lancet 373:234-9. Abstract

Chubb JE, Bradshaw NJ, Soares DC, Porteous DJ, Millar JK. Mol Psychiatry. The DISC locus in psychiatric illness. 2008 Jan;13(1):36-64. Epub 2007 Oct 2. Abstract

Callicott JH, Straub RE, Pezawas L, Egan MF, Mattay VS, Hariri AR, Verchinski BA,Meyer-Lindenberg A, Balkissoon R, Kolachana B, Goldberg TE, Weinberger DR. Variation in DISC1 affects hippocampal structure and function and increases risk for schizophrenia. 2005 Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 102:8627-32. Abstract

Porteous D. Genetic causality in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: out with the old and in with the new. 2008 Curr Opin Genet Dev. 18:229-34. Abstract

View all comments by David J. Porteous

Related News: Copy-number Variants, Interacting Alleles, or Both?

Comment by:  Pamela DeRosseAnil Malhotra (SRF Advisor)
Submitted 19 February 2009
Posted 22 February 2009

The results reported by Tomppo et al. and Need et al. collectively instantiate the complexities of the genetic architecture underlying risk for psychiatric illness. Paradoxically, however, while the results of Need et al. suggest that the answer to the complex question of risk genes for schizophrenia (SZ) may be found by searching a very select population for rare changes in genetic sequence, the results of Tomppo et al. suggest that the answer may be found by searching for common variants in large heterogeneous populations. So which is it? Is SZ the result of rare, novel genetic mutations or an accumulation of common ones? Such a conundrum is not a novel predicament in the process of scientific inquiry and such conundrums are often resolved by the reconciliation of both opposing views. Thus, if we allow history to serve as our guide it seems reasonable that the answer to the current question of what genetic mechanisms are responsible for SZ, is that SZ is caused by both rare and common variants.

Although considerable efforts, by our lab and others, are currently being directed towards seeking the type of rare variants that Need et al. suggest may be responsible for risk for SZ, a less concerted effort is being directed towards parsing the effects of more specific, common genetic variations. To date, there are limited data seeking to elucidate the effects of previously identified risk variants for SZ on phenotypic variation within the diagnostic group. The data that are available, however, suggest that risk variants do influence phenotypic variation. Our work with DISC1, for example, has produced relatively robust, and replicated findings linking variation in the gene to cognitive dysfunction (Burdick et al., 2005) as well as an increased risk for persecutory delusions in SZ (DeRosse et al., 2007). Similarly, our work with DTNBP1 indicates a strong association between variants in the gene and both cognitive dysfunction (Burdick et al., 2006) and negative symptoms in SZ (DeRosse et al., 2006). Moreover, the risk for cognitive dysfunction associated with the DTNBP1 risk genotype was also observed in a sample of healthy individuals. Thus, it seems conceivable that genetic variation associated with phenotypic variation within a diagnostic group may also be associated with similar, sub-syndromal phenotypes in non-clinical samples.

The data reported by Tomppo et al. provide support for the utility of parsing the specific effects of genetic variants on phenotypic variation and extend this approach to populations with sub-syndromal psychiatric symptoms. Such an approach is attractive in that it allows us to study the effects of genotype on phenotype without the confound imposed by psychotropic medications. Although the current data linking genes to specific dimensions of psychiatric illness are provocative, the study groups utilized are comprised of patients undergoing varying degrees of pharmacological intervention. Thus, in these analyses quantitative assessment of psychosis is to some extent confounded by treatment history and response. By measuring lifetime history of symptoms, which for most patients includes substantial periods without effective medication, many studies (including our own) may partially overcome this limitation. Still, assessment of the relation between genetic variation and dimensions of psychosis in study groups not undergoing treatment with pharmacological agents would be a compelling source of confirmation for these preliminary findings.

Perhaps most importantly, the data reported by Tomppo et al. suggest that previously identified risk genes should not be marginalized but rather, should be studied in non-clinical samples to identity phenotypic variation that may be related to the signs and symptoms of psychiatric illness.


Burdick KE, Hodgkinson CA, Szeszko PR, Lencz T, Ekholm JM, Kane JM, Goldman D, Malhotra AK. DISC1 and neurocognitive function in schizophrenia. Neuroreport. 2005; 16(12):1399-402. Abstract

Burdick KE, Lencz T, Funke B, Finn CT, Szeszko PR, Kane JM, Kucherlapati R, Malhotra AK. Genetic variation in DTNBP1 influences general cognitive ability. Hum Mol Genet. 2006; 15(10):1563-8. Abstract

DeRosse P, Hodgkinson CA, Lencz T, Burdick KE, Kane JM, Goldman D, Malhotra AK. Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 genotype and positive symptoms in schizophrenia. Biol Psychiatry. 2007; 61(10):1208-10. Abstract

DeRosse P, Funke B, Burdick KE, Lencz T, Ekholm JM, Kane JM, Kucherlapati R, Malhotra AK. Dysbindin genotype and negative symptoms in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 2006; 163(3):532-4. Abstract

View all comments by Pamela DeRosse
View all comments by Anil Malhotra

Related News: Copy-number Variants, Interacting Alleles, or Both?

Comment by:  James L. Kennedy, SRF Advisor (Disclosure)
Submitted 25 February 2009
Posted 25 February 2009

Has anyone considered the possibility that the CNVs found to be elevated in schizophrenia versus controls could be a peripheral effect and perhaps not present in brain tissue? For example, the diet of the typical schizophrenia patient is poor, and it is conceivable that chronic folate deficiency could predispose to problems in DNA structure or repair in lymphocytes. Thus, the CNVs could be an effect of the illness, and not a cause. Someone needs to do the experiment that compares CNVs in blood to those in the brain of the same individual. And then we need studies of the stability of CNVs over the lifetime of an individual.

View all comments by James L. Kennedy

Related News: Copy-number Variants, Interacting Alleles, or Both?

Comment by:  Kevin J. Mitchell
Submitted 2 March 2009
Posted 2 March 2009

The papers by Need et al. and Tomppo et al. seem to present conflicting evidence for the involvement of common or rare variants in the etiology of schizophrenia.

On the one hand, Need et al., in a very large and well-powered sample, find no evidence for involvement of any common SNPs or CNVs. Importantly, they show that while any one SNP with a small effect and modest allelic frequency might be missed by their analysis, the likelihood that all such putative SNPs would be missed is vanishingly small. They come to the reasonable conclusion that common variants are unlikely to play a major role in the etiology of schizophrenia, except under a highly specific and implausible genetic model. Does this sound the death knell for the common variants, polygenic model of schizophrenia? Yes and no. These and other empirical data are consistent with theoretical analyses which show that the currently popular purely polygenic model, without some gene(s) of large effect, cannot explain familial risk patterns (Hemminki et al., 2007; Hemminki et al., 2008; Bodmer and Bonilla, 2008). It has been suggested that epistatic interactions may generate discontinuous risk from a continuous distribution of common alleles; however, while comparisons of risk in monozygotic and dizygotic twins are consistent with some contribution from epistasis, they are not consistent with the massive levels that would be required to rescue a purely polygenic mechanism, whether through a multiplicative or (biologically unrealistic) threshold model.

Thus, it seems most parsimonious to conclude that most cases of schizophrenia will involve a variant of large effect. As such variants are likely to be rapidly selected against, they are also likely to be quite rare. The findings of specific, gene-disrupting CNVs or mutations in individual genes in schizophrenia cases by Need et al. and numerous other groups support this idea. Excitingly, they also have highlighted specific molecules and biological pathways that provide molecular entry points to elucidate pathogenic mechanisms. The possible convergence on genes interacting with DISC1, including PCM1 and NDE1 in the current study, provides further support for the importance of this pathway, though, clearly, there may be many other ways to disrupt neural development or function that could lead to schizophrenia. (Conversely, it is becoming clearer that many of the putative causative mutations identified so far predispose to multiple psychiatric or neurological conditions.)

Despite the likely involvement of rare variants in most cases of schizophrenia, it remains possible that common alleles could have a modifying influence on risk—indeed, one early paper commonly cited as supporting a polygenic model for schizophrenia actually provided strong support for a model of a single gene of large effect and two to three modifiers (Risch, 1990). A rare variants/common modifiers model would be consistent with the body of literature on modifying genes in model organisms, where effects of genetic background on the phenotypic expression of particular mutations are quite common and can sometimes be large (Nadeau, 2001). Whether such genetic background effects would be mediated by common or rare variants is another question—there is certainly good reason to think that rare or even private mutations may make a larger contribution to phenotypic variance than previously suspected (Ng et al., 2008; Ji et al., 2008).

Nevertheless, common variants are also likely to be involved, and these effects might be detectable in large association studies, though they would be expected to be diluted across genotypes. This might explain inconsistent findings of association of common variants with disease state for various genes, including COMT, BDNF, and DISC1, for example. This issue has led some to look for association of variants in these genes with endophenotypes of schizophrenia in the general population—psychological or physiological traits that are heritable and affected by the symptoms of the disease, such as working memory, executive function, or, in the study by Tomppo et al., social interaction.

These approaches have tended to lead to statistically stronger and more consistent associations and are undoubtedly revealing genes and mechanisms contributing to normal variation in many psychological traits. How this relates to their potential involvement in disease etiology is far from clear, however. The implication of the endophenotype model is that the disorder itself emerges due to the combination of minor effects on multiple symptom parameters (Gottesman and Gould, 2003; Meyer-Lindenberg and Weinberger, 2006). An alternative interpretation is that these common variants may modify the phenotypic expression of some other rare variant, either due to their demonstrated effect on the psychological trait in question or through a more fundamental biochemical interaction, but that in the absence of such a variant of large effect, no combination of common alleles would lead to disease.


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Bodmer W, Bonilla C. Common and rare variants in multifactorial susceptibility to common diseases. Nat Genet. 2008 Jun;40(6):695-701. Abstract

Risch N. Linkage strategies for genetically complex traits. I. Multilocus models. Am J Hum Genet. 1990 Feb;46(2):222-8. Abstract

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Gottesman II, Gould TD. The endophenotype concept in psychiatry: etymology and strategic intentions. Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Apr;160(4):636-45. Abstract

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View all comments by Kevin J. Mitchell

Related News: Genomic Studies Draw Autism and Schizophrenia Back Toward Each Other

Comment by:  Katie Rodriguez
Submitted 7 November 2009
Posted 7 November 2009

If schizophrenia and autism are on a spectrum, how can there be people who are both autistic and schizophrenic? I know of a few people who suffer from both diseases.

View all comments by Katie Rodriguez

Related News: Genomic Studies Draw Autism and Schizophrenia Back Toward Each Other

Comment by:  Bernard Crespi
Submitted 12 November 2009
Posted 12 November 2009

One Hundred Years of Insanity: The Relationship Between Schizophrenia and Autism
The great Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez reified the cyclical nature of history in his Nobel Prize-winning 1967 book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Eugen Bleuler’s less-famous book Dementia Præcox or the Group of Schizophrenias, originally published in 1911, saw first use of the term “autism,” a form of solitude manifest as withdrawal from reality in schizophrenia. This neologism, about to celebrate its centenary, epitomizes an astonishing cycle of reification and change in nosology, a cycle only now coming into clear view as molecular-genetic data confront the traditional, age-old categories of psychiatric classification.

The term autism was, of course, redefined by Leo Kanner (1943) for a childhood psychiatric condition first considered as a subset of schizophrenia, then regarded as quite distinct (Rutter, 1972) or even opposite to it (Rimland, 1964; Crespi and Badcock, 2008), and most recently seen by some researchers as returning to its original Bluelerian incarnation (e.g., Carroll and Owen, 2009). An outstanding new paper by McCarthy et al. (2009), demonstrating that duplications of the CNV locus 16p11.2 are strongly associated with increased risk of schizophrenia, has brought this question to the forefront of psychiatric inquiry, because deletions of this same CNV are one of the most striking recently-characterized risk factors for autism. Additional CNVs, such as those at 1q21.1 and 22q11.21 have also been associated with autism and schizophrenia in one or more studies (e.g., Mefford et al., 2008; Crespi et al., 2009; Glessner et al., 2009), which has led some authors to infer that since an overlapping set of loci mediates risk of both conditions, autism and schizophrenia must be more similar than previously conceived (e.g., Carroll and Owen, 2009; Guilmatre et al., 2009). Similar considerations apply to several genes, such as CNTNAP2 and NRXN1, various disruptions of which have likewise been linked with both conditions (Iossifov et al., 2008; Kirov et al., 2008; Burbach and van der Zwaag, 2009).

So does this plethora of new molecular-genetic data imply that Blueler was indeed correct, if not prescient, that autism and schizophrenia are manifestations of similar disease processes? The answer may appear tantalizingly close, but will likely remain inaccessible without explicit consideration of alternative hypotheses and targeted tests of their differentiating predictions. This approach is simply Platt’s (1964) classic method of strong inference, which has propelled molecular biology so far and fast but left psychiatry largely by the wayside (Cannon, 2009). The alternative hypotheses in this case are clear: with regard to causation from specific genetic and genomic risk factors, autism and schizophrenia are either: 1) independent and discrete, 2) partially yet broadly overlapping, 3) subsumed with autism as a subset of schizophrenia, or 4) diametrically opposite, with normality in the centre. CNVs are especially useful for testing among such alternative hypotheses, because they naturally involve highly-penetrant perturbations in two opposite directions, due to deletions vs duplications of more or less the same genomic regions. Hypotheses 2), 3) and 4) thus predict that autism and schizophrenia should share CNV risk loci, but 2) and 3) predict specific rearrangements (deletions, duplications, or both) shared across both conditions; by contrast, hypothesis (4) predicts that, as highlighted by McCarthy et al. (2009), reciprocal CNVs at the same locus should mediate risk of autism versus schizophrenia. This general approach was pioneered by Craddock et al. (2005, 2009), in their discussion of explicit alternative hypotheses for the relationship between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which are now known to share a notable suite of risk alleles.

A key assumption that underlies tests of hypotheses for the relationship between autism and schizophrenia is accuracy of diagnoses. For schizophrenia, this is seldom at issue. However, diagnoses of autism, or autism spectrum disorders such as PDD-NOS, are normally made at an age well before the first manifestations of schizophrenia in adolescence or early adulthood, which generates a risk for false-positive diagnoses of premorbidity to schizophrenia as autism or autism spectrum (e.g., Eliez, 2007). The tendencies for males to exhibit worse premorbidity to schizophrenia than females (Sobin et al., 2001; Tandon et al., 2009), for CNVs to exert severe effects on diverse aspects of early neurodevelopment (Shinawi et al., 2009), and for schizophrenia of earlier onset to exhibit a higher male sex-ratio bias and a stronger tendency to be associated with CNVs rather than other causes (Remschmidt et al., 1994; Rapoport et al., 2009), all suggest a high risk for false-positive diagnoses of autistic spectrum conditions in individuals with these genomic risk factors (Feinstein and Singh, 2007; Reaven et al., 2008; Sugihara et al., 2008; Starling and Dossetor, 2009). Possible evidence of such risk comes from diagnoses of autism spectrum conditions in children with deletions at 15q11.2, 15q13.3, and 22q11.21, and duplications of 16p11.2, CNVs for which schizophrenia risk has been well established from studies of adults (Antshel et al., 2007; Stefansson et al., 2008; Weiss et al., 2008; Ben-Shachar et al., 2009; Doornbos et al., 2009; McCarthy et al., 2009). By contrast, autism-associated CNVs, such as deletions at 16p11.2 (Kumar et al., 2008), or duplications at 22q11.21 (Glessner et al., 2009; Crespi et al., 2009) have seldom also been reported in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, which suggests that false-positive diagnoses of schizophrenia as autism are uncommon.

Differentiating between a hypothesis of false-positive diagnoses of premorbidity to schizophrenia as autism, compared to a hypothesis of specific deletions or duplications shared between autism and schizophrenia, requires some combination of longitudinal studies, judicious use of endophenotypes, and adoption of relatively new diagnostic categories such as multiple complex developmental disorder (Sprong et al., 2008). Moreover, to the degree that such false positives are not uncommon, and autism and schizophrenia are underlain by diametric genetically based risk factors, inclusion of children premorbid for schizophrenia in studies on the genetic bases of autism will substantially dilute the probability of detecting significant results.

Ultimately, robust evaluation of alternative hypotheses for the relationship of autism with schizophrenia will require evidence from studies of common and rare SNP variants as well as CNVs, in-depth analyses of the neurodevelopmental and neuronal-function effects of different alterations to genes such as NRXN1, CNTNAP2, and SHANK3, and integrative data from diverse disciplines other than genetics, especially the neurosciences and psychology. Unless such interdisciplinary studies are deployed—in hypothesis-testing frameworks that use strong inference—we should expect to remain, as penned by García Márquez, in “permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knows for certain where the limits of reality lay”—for yet another 100 years.

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Guilmatre A, Dubourg C, Mosca AL, Legallic S, Goldenberg A, Drouin-Garraud V, Layet V, Rosier A, Briault S, Bonnet-Brilhault F, Laumonnier F, Odent S, Le Vacon G, Joly-Helas G, David V, Bendavid C, Pinoit JM, Henry C, Impallomeni C, Germano E, Tortorella G, Di Rosa G, Barthelemy C, Andres C, Faivre L, Frébourg T, Saugier Veber P, Campion D. Recurrent rearrangements in synaptic and neurodevelopmental genes and shared biologic pathways in schizophrenia, autism, and mental retardation. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009 Sep;66(9):947-56. Abstract

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Shinawi M, Liu P, Kang S-H, Shen J, Belmont JW, Scott DA, Probst FJ, Craigen WJ, Graham BH, Pursley A, Clark G, Lee J, Proud M, Stocco A, Rodriguez DL, Kozel BA,Sparagana S, Roeder ER, McGrew SG, Kurczynski TW, Allison LJ, Amato S, Savage S, Patel A,Stankiewicz P, Beaudet AL, Cheung SW, JR Lupski JR. Recurrent reciprocal 16p11.2 rearrangements associated with global developmental delay, behavioral problems, dysmorphism, epilepsy, and abnormal head size. J Med Genet. (in press).

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Sprong M, Becker HE, Schothorst PF, Swaab H, Ziermans TB, Dingemans PM, Linszen D, van Engeland H. Pathways to psychosis: a comparison of the pervasive developmental disorder subtype Multiple Complex Developmental Disorder and the "At Risk Mental State". Schizophr Res. 2008 Feb;99(1-3):38-47. Abstract

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Stefansson H, Rujescu D, Cichon S, Pietiläinen OP, Ingason A, Steinberg S, Fossdal R, Sigurdsson E, Sigmundsson T, Buizer-Voskamp JE, Hansen T, Jakobsen KD, Muglia P, Francks C, Matthews PM, Gylfason A, Halldorsson BV, Gudbjartsson D, Thorgeirsson TE, Sigurdsson A, Jonasdottir A, Jonasdottir A, Bjornsson A, Mattiasdottir S, Blondal T, Haraldsson M, Magnusdottir BB, Giegling I, Möller HJ, Hartmann A, Shianna KV, Ge D, Need AC, Crombie C, Fraser G, Walker N, Lonnqvist J, Suvisaari J, Tuulio-Henriksson A, Paunio T, Toulopoulou T, Bramon E, Di Forti M, Murray R, Ruggeri M, Vassos E, Tosato S, Walshe M, Li T, Vasilescu C, Mühleisen TW, Wang AG, Ullum H, Djurovic S, Melle I, Olesen J, Kiemeney LA, Franke B; GROUP, Sabatti C, Freimer NB, Gulcher JR, Thorsteinsdottir U, Kong A, Andreassen OA, Ophoff RA, Georgi A, Rietschel M, Werge T, Petursson H, Goldstein DB, Nöthen MM, Peltonen L, Collier DA, St Clair D, Stefansson K. Large recurrent microdeletions associated with schizophrenia. Nature. 2008 Sep 11;455(7210):232-6. Abstract

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View all comments by Bernard Crespi

Related News: Genomic Studies Draw Autism and Schizophrenia Back Toward Each Other

Comment by:  Suzanna Russell-SmithDonna BaylissMurray Maybery
Submitted 9 February 2010
Posted 10 February 2010

The Diametric Opposition of Autism and Psychosis: Support From a Study of Cognition
As has been noted previously, Crespi and Badcock’s (2008) theory that autism and schizophrenia are diametrically opposed disorders is certainly a novel and somewhat controversial one. In his recent blog on Psychology Today, Badcock states that the theory stands on two completely different foundations: one in evolution and genetics, and one in psychiatry and cognitive science (Badcock, 2010). While most of the comments posted before ours have addressed the relationship between autism and schizophrenia from a genetic perspective, coming from a psychology background, we note that it is the aspects of Crespi and Badcock’s theory that relate to cognition which have particularly caught our attention. While we can therefore contribute little to the discussion of a relationship between autism and schizophrenia from a genetic standpoint, we present the findings from our recent study (Russell-Smith et al., 2010), which provided the first test of Crespi and Badcock’s claim that autism and psychosis are at opposite ends of the cognitive spectrum.

In placing autism and psychosis at opposite ends of the cognitive spectrum, Crespi and Badcock (2008) propose that autistic and positive schizophrenia traits contrastingly affect preference for local versus global processing, with individuals with autism displaying a preference for local processing and individuals with positive schizophrenia displaying a preference for global processing. That is, these authors claim that while individuals with autism show a tendency to focus on detail or process features in their isolation, individuals with positive schizophrenia show a tendency to look at the bigger picture or process features as an integrated whole. Importantly, since Crespi and Badcock argue for a continuum stretching all the way from autism to psychosis, the same diametric pattern of cognition should be seen in individuals who display only mild variants of autistic and positive schizophrenia traits. This includes typical individuals who score highly on measures such as the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) and the Unusual Experiences subscale of the Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Experiences (O-LIFE:UE; Mason et al., 2005). These are both reliable and commonly used measures which have been specifically designed to assess the levels of “autistic-like” traits and positive schizotypy traits in typical individuals. Since Crespi and Badcock actually argue their theory is best evaluated with reference to individuals with milder traits of autism and positive schizophrenia, it is with these populations that we investigated their claims.

A task often used to determine whether an individual has a preference for local over global processing is the Embedded Figures Test (EFT; Witkin et al., 1971), which requires individuals to detect hidden shapes within complex figures. As the test requires one to resist experiencing an integrated visual stimulus or gestalt in favor of seeing single elements, it is argued that a local processing style aids successful (i.e., faster) completion of this task (Bolte et al., 2007). Accordingly, from Crespi and Badcock’s (2008) theory, one would expect that relative to individuals with low levels of these traits, individuals with high levels of autistic-like traits should perform better on the EFT, while individuals with positive schizotypy traits should perform worse. To test this claim, our study obtained the AQ and O-LIFE:UE scores for 318 students completing psychology as part of a broader degree (e.g., a BSc or BA). Two pairs of groups (i.e., four groups in total), each consisting of 20 students, were then formed. One of these pairs consisted of High and Low AQ groups, which were selected such that they were separated substantially in their AQ scores but matched as closely as possible on their O-LIFE:UE scores. The other pair of groups, the High and Low O-LIFE:UE groups, were selected such that they were separated in their O-LIFE:UE scores, but matched as closely as possible on their AQ scores. The gender ratio was matched closely across the four groups.

To test the prediction that higher levels of autistic-like traits are associated with more skilled EFT performance, the High and Low AQ groups were compared in terms of their mean response time to accurately locate each of the embedded figures. Individuals in the High AQ group did display more skilled EFT performance than individuals in the Low AQ group, consistent with a greater preference for local over global processing in relation to higher levels of autistic-like traits (see also Almeida et al., 2010; Bolte and Poustka, 2007; Grinter et al., 2009; Grinter et al., 2009). We then compared EFT performance for the O-LIFE:UE groups to test the prediction that higher levels of positive schizotypy traits are associated with less skilled performance on this task. Consistent with a preference for global over local processing in relation to higher levels of positive schizotypy traits, individuals in the High O-LIFE:UE group displayed less skilled EFT performance than individuals in the Low O-LIFE:UE group. Therefore, results from both pairs of groups together provide support for Crespi and Badcock’s (2008) claim that autistic and positive schizophrenia traits are diametrically opposed with regard to their effect on local versus global processing.

However, the support our study offers for Crespi and Badcock’s (2008) theory was tempered slightly by our failure to find the expected contrasting patterns of non-verbal relative to verbal ability for our two pairs of groups. To display the expected patterns, relative to individuals with low levels of these traits, individuals with high levels of autistic-like traits should have displayed higher non-verbal ability relative to verbal ability, whereas individuals with high levels of positive schizotypy traits should have displayed lower non-verbal relative to verbal ability. While visual inspection of mean verbal and non-verbal scores for the O-LIFE:UE groups revealed a trend consistent with what would be expected based on Crespi and Badcock’s theory, none of the group differences was statistically significant. However, as we pointed out in our article, a study which offers a more complete assessment of this aspect of the theory is warranted. In particular, since the use of a student sample in our study no doubt led to a restriction in the range of IQ scores (especially with reference to verbal IQ), a test of community-based samples would be useful.

Therefore, while Crespi and Badcock’s (2008) theory has passed its first major test at the level of cognition, with our results indicating a contrasting effect of autistic-like and positive schizotypy traits with regard to preference for local versus global processing, further investigation of these authors’ theory at both the cognitive and genetic levels is required.


Almeida, R., Dickinson, J., Maybery, M., Badcock, J., Badcock, D. A new step toward understanding Embedded Figures Test performance in the autism spectrum: The radial frequency search task. Neuropsychologia. 2010 Jan;48(2):374-81. Abstract

Badcock, C. (2010). Diametric cognition passes its first lab test. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 8, from

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., Clubley, E. (2001). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5-17. Abstract

Bolte, S., Holtmann, M., Poustka, F., Scheurich, A., Schmidt, L. (2007). Gestalt perception and local-global processing in High-Functioning Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1493-1504. Abstract

Bolte, S., Poustka, F. (2006). The broader cognitive phenotype of autism in parents: How specific is the tendency for local processing and executive function. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 639-645. Abstract

Crespi, B., Badcock, C. (2008). Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 241-261. Abstract

Grinter, E., Maybery, M., Van Beek, P., Pellicano, E., Badcock, J., Badcock, D. (2009). Global visual processing and self-rated autistic-like traits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1278-1290. Abstract

Grinter, E., Van Beek, P., Maybery, M., Badcock, D. (2009). Brief Report: Visuospatial analysis and self-rated autistic-like traits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 670–677. Abstract

Mason, O., Linney, Y., Claridge, G. (2005). Short scales for measuring schizotypy. Schizophrenia Research, 78, 293-296. Abstract

Russell-Smith, S., Maybery, M., Bayliss, D. Are the autism and positive schizotypy spectra diametrically opposed in local versus global processing? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2010 Jan 28. Abstract

Witkin, H., Oltman, P., Raskin, E., Karp, S. (1971). A manual for the Embedded Figures Test. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

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Related News: DISC1 Continued: Mitofilin as a Mitochondrial Mechanism

Comment by:  Christine Konradi
Submitted 2 November 2010
Posted 2 November 2010

Novel findings on the role of DISC1 and mitochondrial function
One of the most interesting genetic leads for schizophrenia and affective disorders is a balanced translocation on chromosome 1, leading to the disruption of DISC1 (disrupted-in-schizophrenia 1). The translocation is observed in a Scottish family with a history of major psychiatric disorders, and the linkage with psychiatric disorders has been thoroughly studied and confirmed (Blackwood et al., 2001). While the function of DISC1 is not entirely known, it has a strong connection with mitochondria. Animal models and studies in cell lines and cortical cultures showed that the protein localizes predominantly to mitochondria (Brandon et al., 2005; James et al., 2004; Morris et al., 2003). Expression of truncated DISC1 in cell lines, mimicking the translocation breakpoint in the Scottish pedigree, led to decreased mitochondrial localization (Brandon et al., 2005; Millar et al., 2005). Furthermore, overexpression of truncated DISC1 isoforms induced abnormal mitochondrial morphologies, and affected mitochondrial fission and fusion (Millar et al., 2005).

Mitochondrial pathology has been implicated in schizophrenia as well as affective disorders, and has been verified in a variety of experimental paradigms (for a recent review, see Clay et al., 2010). A recent article by Park et al. (Park et al., 2010) further elaborates on the link between mitochondrial function and DISC1. The authors examined the interaction of DISC1 with mitofilin, a transmembrane protein of the inner mitochondrial membrane with critical functions in mitochondrial morphology, mitochondrial fission, and fusion. In previous publications, mitofilin has been shown to interact with DISC1 (see, e.g., Camargo et al., 2007), but Park et al. took it one step further. In their study, the authors demonstrate that DISC1 affects protein levels of mitofilin by increasing ubiquitination and proteasome-mediated degradation. Reduction or truncation of DISC1 affected the activity of the electron transport chain and led to a decrease in ATP levels. Moreover, reduction in DISC1 caused abnormal Ca2+ buffering dynamics and reduced the activity of monoamine oxidase A. Thus, the authors present a mechanism by which DISC1 is connected to mitochondrial location and mitochondrial function, providing further evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction can be an important factor in major psychiatric disorders.


Blackwood, D. H., Fordyce, A., Walker, M. T., St Clair, D. M., Porteous, D. J., Muir, W. J., 2001. Schizophrenia and affective disorders--cosegregation with a translocation at chromosome 1q42 that directly disrupts brain-expressed genes: clinical and P300 findings in a family. Am J Hum Genet. 69, 428-33. Abstract

Brandon, N. J., Schurov, I., Camargo, L. M., Handford, E. J., Duran-Jimeniz, B., Hunt, P., Millar, J. K., Porteous, D. J., Shearman, M. S., Whiting, P. J., 2005. Subcellular targeting of DISC1 is dependent on a domain independent from the Nudel binding site. Mol Cell Neurosci. 28, 613-24. Abstract

Camargo, L. M., Collura, V., Rain, J. C., Mizuguchi, K., Hermjakob, H., Kerrien, S., Bonnert, T. P., Whiting, P. J., Brandon, N. J., 2007. Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 Interactome: evidence for the close connectivity of risk genes and a potential synaptic basis for schizophrenia. Mol Psychiatry. 12, 74-86. Abstract

Clay, H. B., Sillivan, S., Konradi, C., 2010. Mitochondrial dysfunction and pathology in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Int J Dev Neurosci. Abstract

James, R., Adams, R. R., Christie, S., Buchanan, S. R., Porteous, D. J., Millar, J. K., 2004. Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) is a multicompartmentalized protein that predominantly localizes to mitochondria. Mol Cell Neurosci. 26, 112-22. Abstract

Millar, J. K., James, R., Christie, S., Porteous, D. J., 2005. Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1): subcellular targeting and induction of ring mitochondria. Mol Cell Neurosci. 30, 477-84. Abstract

Morris, J. A., Kandpal, G., Ma, L., Austin, C. P., 2003. DISC1 (Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1) is a centrosome-associated protein that interacts with MAP1A, MIPT3, ATF4/5 and NUDEL: regulation and loss of interaction with mutation. Hum Mol Genet. 12, 1591-608. Abstract

Park, Y. U., Jeong, J., Lee, H., Mun, J. Y., Kim, J. H., Lee, J. S., Nguyen, M. D., Han, S. S., Suh, P. G., Park, S. K., 2010. Disrupted-in-schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) plays essential roles in mitochondria in collaboration with Mitofilin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 107, 17785-90. Abstract

View all comments by Christine Konradi