Background: A number of studies have suggested deficits in myelination and glial gene expression in different psychiatric disorders. We examined the brain expression and genetic/epigenetic regulation of QKI, an oligodendrocyte-specific RNA binding protein important for cell development and myelination.
Methods: The microarray-based expression of QKI was evaluated in cortical and subcortical brain regions from suicide victims with a diagnosis of major depression (n = 16) and control subjects (n = 13). These findings were also assessed with a real-time (quantitative polymerase chain reaction [qPCR]) approach, with QKI protein levels evaluated through immunoblotting. Identification of a QKI promoter sequence was then used to examine genetic and epigenetic variation at the QKI locus.
Results: The messenger RNA (mRNA) levels of multiple transcripts of QKI were evaluated on Affymetrix microarrays, revealing significant reductions in 11 cortical regions and the hippocampus and amygdala of suicide victims compared with control subjects. Microarray findings were confirmed by qPCR, and reduced expression of QKI protein was identified in orbitofrontal cortex. Analysis of promoter variation and methylation state in a subset of individuals did not identify differences at the genetic or epigenetic level between depressed suicide victims and control subjects.
Conclusions: The observation of consistent reductions in multiple isoforms of QKI mRNA in depressed suicide victims supports the growing body of evidence for a role of myelination-related deficits in the etiology of psychiatric disorders. A specific role of QKI in this process is implied by its reduced expression and known interactions with genes involved in oligodendrocyte determination; however, QKI gene variation responsible for these changes remains to be identified.