Target identification for CNS diseases by transcriptional profiling

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Jan;34(1):18-54. doi: 10.1038/npp.2008.172. Epub 2008 Oct 15.


Gene expression changes in neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, and gene responses to therapeutic drugs, provide new ways to identify central nervous system (CNS) targets for drug discovery. This review summarizes gene and pathway targets replicated in expression profiling of human postmortem brain, animal models, and cell culture studies. Analysis of isolated human neurons implicates targets for Alzheimer's disease and the cognitive decline associated with normal aging and mild cognitive impairment. In addition to tau, amyloid-beta precursor protein, and amyloid-beta peptides (Abeta), these targets include all three high-affinity neurotrophin receptors and the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) system, synapse markers, glutamate receptors (GluRs) and transporters, and dopamine (DA) receptors, particularly the D2 subtype. Gene-based candidates for Parkinson's disease (PD) include the ubiquitin-proteosome system, scavengers of reactive oxygen species, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), its receptor, TrkB, and downstream target early growth response 1, Nurr-1, and signaling through protein kinase C and RAS pathways. Increasing variability and decreases in brain mRNA production from middle age to old age suggest that cognitive impairments during normal aging may be addressed by drugs that restore antioxidant, DNA repair, and synaptic functions including those of DA to levels of younger adults. Studies in schizophrenia identify robust decreases in genes for GABA function, including glutamic acid decarboxylase, HINT1, glutamate transport and GluRs, BDNF and TrkB, numerous 14-3-3 protein family members, and decreases in genes for CNS synaptic and metabolic functions, particularly glycolysis and ATP generation. Many of these metabolic genes are increased by insulin and muscarinic agonism, both of which are therapeutic in psychosis. Differential genomic signals are relatively sparse in bipolar disorder, but include deficiencies in the expression of 14-3-3 protein members, implicating these chaperone proteins and the neurotransmitter pathways they support as possible drug targets. Brains from persons with major depressive disorder reveal decreased expression for genes in glutamate transport and metabolism, neurotrophic signaling (eg, FGF, BDNF and VGF), and MAP kinase pathways. Increases in these pathways in the brains of animals exposed to electroconvulsive shock and antidepressant treatments identify neurotrophic and angiogenic growth factors and second messenger stimulation as therapeutic approaches for the treatment of depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cell Line
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / genetics*
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics


  • Biomarkers