Background: The neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate have been implicated in the prefrontal dysfunction associated with schizophrenic illness. Studies suggest that the D1 subclass of dopamine receptor and the N-methyl-D-aspartate subclass of glutamate receptor are involved in this prefrontal dysfunction. These 2 receptors regulate, in opposing directions, the amount of phosphorylated activated DARPP-32, a potent inhibitor of protein phosphatase 1 that modulates the activity of several classes of receptors and ion channels. Thus, DARPP-32 occupies a key regulatory position, and may play an important role in the pathophysiological changes in dopamine and glutamate function reported in patients with schizophrenia.
Methods: The amounts of DARPP-32, synapsin I, and the alpha subunit of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II were measured by immunoblotting in postmortem samples from 14 schizophrenic subjects and their age-, gender-, and autolysis time-matched control subjects. Possible confounding influences of neuroleptic treatment were analyzed by comparing subjects with Alzheimer disease who were and were not treated with neuroleptic agents.
Results: DARPP-32 was significantly reduced in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in more schizophrenic subjects relative to matched controls. The ratios of 2 other synaptic phosphoproteins, synapsin I and the alpha subunit of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, did not differ between schizophrenic and control subjects, nor between subjects with Alzheimer disease who were and were not treated with neuroleptic agents.
Conclusions: Our findings are consistent with a selective reduction in DARPP-32 levels in schizophrenic subjects. This may be involved in the prefrontal dysfunction associated with schizophrenia.