The Section on Integrative Neuroimaging continues to make advances toward its goals of understanding the nature, molecular underpinnings, underlying neurochemistry, and clinical correlates of neural systems-level dysfunction in schizophrenia. This year, we have made substantial progress in furthering our multimodal neuroimaging studies of a unique and growing cohort of medication-free patients with schizophrenia. In particular, new efforts to characterize not only presynaptic dopamine synthetic capacity, but also D1 and D2/3 receptor availability in this population have been successful in this years participants, and with further accrual, will allow evaluation of key hypotheses about integrated pre- and post-synaptic dopamine functioning in this disorder. In conjunction with cortical cognitive activation data collected in the same patients, these data will also provide a platform to expand work from this lab yolking characteristic schizophrenia-associated impairments in prefrontal activation during executive task performance and exaggerated striatal dopamine synthesis. Specifically, this ongoing project will allow us to directly evaluate theories that schizophrenic neuropathophysiological changes are reflected in failures of maintaining task appropriate network activity via disturbed cortical dopaminergic tone and impaired signal-to-noise ratios due to suboptimal D1 to D2/3 receptor relationships. As described in extensive detail in Eisenberg and Berman (Neuropsychopharmacology, 2010), critical disturbances in cognitive control neural circuitry in schizophrenia not only serve as sources of marked disability in affected individuals, but also provide a valuable phenotype for testing hypotheses regarding how genes implicated in schizophrenia might contribute risk. For example, by measuring regional cerebral blood flow during the N-back continuous working memory task, we have re-confirmed an aberrant prefrontal activation pattern even in patients who perform relatively well on the task and further demonstrated profoundly aberrant connectivity in prefrontal and medial temporal lobe regions, which showed strong ability to discriminate between healthy and ill participants. This latter finding was prospectively validated in two additional data sets, suggesting that disturbances in the prefrontal-limbic functional axis may be an illness trait marker. We have more recently extended this work even further, reporting on a unique gene-diagnosis interaction operating on regional cerebral blood flow involving the gene coding for catechol-O-methyltransferase, COMT, which harbors common variation that is weakly but consistently associated with schizophrenia risk and strongly implicated in both prefrontal and limbic functioning during executive and affective challenge, respectively, in healthy individuals. In particular, we have identified that even at rest there exists in patients with schizophrenia an inverse relationship between dorsolateral prefrontal cortical and medial temporal lobe blood flow, which is mediated by COMT genotype. This is an effect not seen in healthy study participants and suggests an important intersection between genetically determined cortical dopaminergic tone and fundamental biases in baseline prefrontal-limbic neural network activity in patients suffering with schizophrenia. This study therefore elucidates a mechanistic explanation for variation in characteristic resting-state neural abnormalities previously identified in schizophrenia. Adopting a similar strategy, we are currently broadening our neuroimaging genetic work in this cohort to identify gene-diagnosis interactions with other risk genes that impact neural functioning during both working-memory performance and basal resting conditions. Ultimately, these efforts will help clarify molecular contributions to pathophysiological findings in schizophrenia and gain ground toward defining new therapeutic targets.

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U.S. National Institute of Mental Health
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Ursini, Gianluca; Punzi, Giovanna; Chen, Qiang et al. (2018) Convergence of placenta biology and genetic risk for schizophrenia. Nat Med 24:792-801
Loeb, Frances F; Zhou, Xueping; Craddock, Kirsten E S et al. (2018) Reduced Functional Brain Activation and Connectivity During a Working Memory Task in Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 57:166-174
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Masdeu, Joseph C; Dalmau, Josep; Berman, Karen F (2016) NMDA Receptor Internalization by Autoantibodies: A Reversible Mechanism Underlying Psychosis? Trends Neurosci 39:300-310

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