Emerging evidence points to the involvement of the brain extracellular matrix (ECM) in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia (SZ). Abnormalities affecting several ECM components, including Reelin and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs), have been described in subjects with this disease. Solid evidence supports the involvement of Reelin, an ECM glycoprotein involved in corticogenesis, synaptic functions and glutamate NMDA receptor regulation, expressed prevalently in distinct populations of GABAergic neurons, which secrete it into the ECM. Marked changes of Reelin expression in SZ have typically been reported in association with GABA-related abnormalities in subjects with SZ and bipolar disorder. Recent findings from our group point to substantial abnormalities affecting CSPGs, a main ECM component, in the amygdala and entorhinal cortex of subjects with schizophrenia, but not bipolar disorder. Striking increases of glial cells expressing CSPGs were accompanied by reductions of perineuronal nets, CSPG- and Reelin-enriched ECM aggregates enveloping distinct neuronal populations. CSPGs developmental and adult functions, including neuronal migration, axon guidance, synaptic and neurotransmission regulation are highly relevant to the pathophysiology of SZ. Together with reports of anomalies affecting several other ECM components, these findings point to the ECM as a key component of the pathology of SZ. We propose that ECM abnormalities may contribute to several aspects of the pathophysiology of this disease, including disrupted connectivity and neuronal migration, synaptic anomalies and altered GABAergic, glutamatergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission.
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