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Older molecular brain age in severe mental illness

Abstract

Psychiatric disorders are associated with accelerated aging and enhanced risk for neurodegenerative disorders. Brain aging is associated with molecular, cellular, and structural changes that are robust on the group level, yet show substantial inter-individual variability. Here we assessed deviations in gene expression from normal age-dependent trajectories, and tested their validity as predictors of risk for major mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders. We performed large-scale gene expression and genotype analyses in postmortem samples of two frontal cortical brain regions from 214 control subjects aged 20–90 years. Individual estimates of “molecular age” were derived from age-dependent genes, identified by robust regression analysis. Deviation from chronological age was defined as “delta age”. Genetic variants associated with deviations from normal gene expression patterns were identified by expression quantitative trait loci (cis-eQTL) of age-dependent genes or genome-wide association study (GWAS) on delta age, combined into distinct polygenic risk scores (PRScis-eQTL and PRSGWAS), and tested for predicting brain disorders or pathology in independent postmortem expression datasets and clinical cohorts. In these validation datasets, molecular ages, defined by 68 and 76 age-related genes for two brain regions respectively, were positively correlated with chronological ages (r = 0.88/0.91), elevated in bipolar disorder (BP) and schizophrenia (SCZ), and unchanged in major depressive disorder (MDD). Exploratory analyses in independent clinical datasets show that PRSs were associated with SCZ and MDD diagnostics, and with cognition in SCZ and pathology in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These results suggest that older molecular brain aging is a common feature of severe mental illnesses and neurodegeneration.

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Fig. 1: Study flow chart.
Fig. 2: Age-related gene expresion in two related regions of the human frontal cortex.
Fig. 3: Delta age may index an older or younger brain at the molecular level compared to chronological age.
Fig. 4: Heatmap for polygenic risk score associations with clinical diagnostics and functional outcomes in external cohorts (IRL-Grey, ROSMAP, Health ABC, and Lieber center).

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (MH093723 to ES and NIH R01CA190766 for CL and GCT), the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute (to ES). YSN is supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, a Koerner New Scientist Award, and a Paul Garfinkel Catalyst Award administered by the CAMH Foundation. We thank Kurt Lohman and Yongmei Liu for help with Health ABC analyses.

Data generated as part of the CommonMind Consortium were supported by funding from Takeda Pharmaceuticals Company Limited, F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd and NIH grants R01MH085542, R01MH093725, P50MH066392, P50MH080405, R01MH097276, RO1-MH-075916, P50M096891, P50MH084053S1, R37MH057881, AG02219, AG05138, MH06692, R01MH110921, R01MH109677, R01MH109897, U01MH103392, and contract HHSN271201300031C through IRP NIMH. Brain tissue for the study was obtained from the following brain bank collections: the Mount Sinai NIH Brain and Tissue Repository, the University of Pennsylvania Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, the University of Pittsburgh NeuroBioBank and Brain and Tissue Repositories, and the NIMH Human Brain Collection Core. CMC Leadership: Panos Roussos, Joseph Buxbaum, Andrew Chess, Schahram Akbarian, Vahram Haroutunian (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), Bernie Devlin, David Lewis (University of Pittsburgh), Raquel Gur, Chang-Gyu Hahn (University of Pennsylvania), Enrico Domenici (University of Trento), Mette A. Peters, Solveig Sieberts (Sage Bionetworks), Thomas Lehner, Stefano Marenco, Barbara K. Lipska (NIMH).

ROSMAP study data were provided by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. Data collection was supported through funding by NIA grants P30AG10161, R01AG15819, R01AG17917, R01AG30146, R01AG36836, U01AG32984, U01AG46152, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

The Health ABC study was supported by National Institute on Aging (NIA) Contracts N01-AG-6-2101; N01-AG-6-2103; N01-AG-6-2106; NIA grant R01-AG028050, and NINR grant R01-NR012459. This research was also funded in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute on Aging and R01 AG028288.

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Lin, CW., Chang, LC., Ma, T. et al. Older molecular brain age in severe mental illness. Mol Psychiatry (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-0834-1

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