Background: While a variety of evidence supports a prenatal component in schizophrenia, there are few data regarding the cell populations involved. We sought to identify cells of the human prenatal brain mediating genetic risk for schizophrenia by integrating cell-specific gene expression measures generated through single-nuclei RNA sequencing with recent large-scale genome-wide association study (GWAS) and exome sequencing data for the condition. Methods: Single-nuclei RNA sequencing was performed on 5 brain regions (frontal cortex, ganglionic eminence, hippocampus, thalamus, and cerebellum) from 3 fetuses from the second trimester of gestation. Enrichment of schizophrenia common variant genetic liability and rare damaging coding variation was assessed in relation to gene expression specificity within each identified cell population. Results: Common risk variants were prominently enriched within genes with high expression specificity for developing neuron populations within the frontal cortex, ganglionic eminence, and hippocampus. Enrichments were largely independent of genes expressed in neuronal populations of the adult brain that have been implicated in schizophrenia through the same methods. Genes containing an excess of rare damaging variants in schizophrenia had higher expression specificity for developing glutamatergic neurons of the frontal cortex and hippocampus that were also enriched for common variant liability. Conclusions: We found evidence for a distinct contribution of prenatal neuronal development to genetic risk for schizophrenia, involving specific populations of developing neurons within the second-trimester fetal brain. Our study significantly advances the understanding of the neurodevelopmental origins of schizophrenia and provides a resource with which to investigate the prenatal antecedents of other psychiatric and neurologic disorders.
- Gene expression
- Genome-wide association study (GWAS)
- Single-nuclei RNA sequencing