Grey and white matter microstructure is associated with polygenic risk for schizophrenia.

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Recent discovery of approximately 270 common genetic variants associated with schizophrenia has enabled polygenic risk scores (PRS) to be measured in the population. We hypothesized that normal variation in PRS would be associated with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) phenotypes of brain morphometry and tissue composition. We used the largest extant genome-wide association dataset (N = 69,369 cases and N = 236,642 healthy controls) to measure PRS for schizophrenia in a large sample of adults from the UK Biobank (Nmax = 29,878) who had multiple micro- and macrostructural MRI metrics measured at each of 180 cortical areas, seven subcortical structures, and 15 major white matter tracts. Linear mixed-effect models were used to investigate associations between PRS and brain structure at global and regional scales, controlled for multiple comparisons. Polygenic risk was significantly associated with reduced neurite density index (NDI) at global brain scale, at 149 cortical regions, five subcortical structures, and 14 white matter tracts. Other microstructural parameters, e.g., fractional anisotropy, that were correlated with NDI were also significantly associated with PRS. Genetic effects on multiple MRI phenotypes were co-located in temporal, cingulate, and prefrontal cortical areas, insula, and hippocampus. Post-hoc bidirectional Mendelian randomization analyses provided preliminary evidence in support of a causal relationship between (reduced) thalamic NDI and (increased) risk of schizophrenia. Risk-related reduction in NDI is plausibly indicative of reduced density of myelinated axons and dendritic arborization in large-scale cortico-subcortical networks. Cortical, subcortical, and white matter microstructure may be linked to the genetic mechanisms of schizophrenia.


Funder: E.-M.S is supported by a PhD studentship awarded by the Friends of Peterhouse.

Funder: DH | National Institute for Health Research (NIHR); doi:

Brain, Genome-Wide Association Study, Humans, Multifactorial Inheritance, Schizophrenia, White Matter
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Mol Psychiatry
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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) (146281)
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (156239)
British Academy (PFO\170517)
Medical Research Council (MC_G0802534)
Medical Research Council (MR/M009041/1)
E.-M.S is supported by a PhD studentship awarded by the Friends of Peterhouse. This research was co-funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and a Marmaduke Sheild grant to R.A.I.B. and V.W.. E.T.B is an NIHR Senior Investigator. R.R.G was funded by a Guarantors of Brain Fellowship. R.A.I.B. is supported by a British Academy Post-Doctoral fellowship and the Autism Research Trust. We wish to thank Dr Petra Vertes and Dr Lisa Ronan for their advice on research design and Dr Simon R White for his statistical advice and support. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. This research was possible due to an application to the UK Biobank (project 20904).