Attenuated transcriptional response to pro-inflammatory cytokines in schizophrenia hiPSC-derived neural progenitor cells

Anjali Bhat, Haritz Irizar, Amalie Couch, Pooja Raval, Rodrigo R R Duarte, Lucia Dutan Polit, Bjorn Hanger, Timothy Powell, P J Michael Deans, Carol Shum, Roland Nagy, Grainne McAlonan, Conrad O Iyegbe, Jack Price, Elvira Bramon, Sagnik Bhattacharyya, Anthony C Vernon, Deepak P Srivastava

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Maternal immune activation (MIA) during prenatal development is an environmental risk factor for psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia (SZ). Converging lines of evidence from human and animal model studies suggest that elevated cytokine levels in the maternal and fetal compartments are an important indication of the mechanisms driving this association. However, there is variability in susceptibility to the psychiatric risk conferred by MIA, likely influenced by genetic factors. How MIA interacts with a genetic profile susceptible to SZ is challenging to test in animal models. To address this gap, we examined whether differential gene expression responses occur in forebrain-lineage neural progenitor cells (NPCs) derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) generated from three individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and three healthy controls. Following acute (24 h) treatment with either interferon-gamma (IFNγ; 25 ng/μl) or interleukin (IL)-1β (10 ng/μl), we identified, by RNA sequencing, 3380 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in the IFNγ-treated control lines (compared to untreated controls), and 1980 DEGs in IFNγ-treated SZ lines (compared to untreated SZ lines). Out of 4137 genes that responded significantly to IFNγ across all lines, 1223 were common to both SZ and control lines. The 2914 genes that appeared to respond differentially to IFNγ treatment in SZ lines were subjected to a further test of significance (multiple testing correction applied to the interaction effect between IFNγ treatment and SZ diagnosis), yielding 359 genes that passed the significance threshold. There were no differentially expressed genes in the IL-1β-treatment conditions after Benjamini-Hochberg correction. Gene set enrichment analysis however showed that IL-1β impacts immune function and neuronal differentiation. Overall, our data suggest that a) SZ NPCs show an attenuated transcriptional response to IFNγ treatment compared to controls; b) Due to low IL-1β receptor expression in NPCs, NPC cultures appear to be less responsive to IL-1β than IFNγ; and c) the genes differentially regulated in SZ lines – in the face of a cytokine challenge – are primarily associated with mitochondrial, “loss-of-function”, pre- and post-synaptic gene sets. Our findings particularly highlight the role of early synaptic development in the association between maternal immune activation and schizophrenia risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-97
Number of pages16
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date15 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


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