Aggregated proteins in schizophrenia and other chronic mental diseases: DISC1opathies

Prion. 2012 Apr-Jun;6(2):134-41. doi: 10.4161/pri.18989. Epub 2012 Apr 1.


Chronic mental diseases (CMD) like the schizophrenias are progressive diseases of heterogenous but poorly understood biological origin. An imbalance in proteostasis is a hallmark of dysfunctional neurons, leading to impaired clearance and abnormal deposition of protein aggregates. Thus, it can be hypothesized that unbalanced proteostasis in such neurons may also lead to protein aggregates in schizophrenia. These protein aggregates, however, would be more subtle then in the classical neurodegenerative diseases and as such have not yet been detected. The DISC1 (Disrupted-in-schizophrenia 1) gene is considered among the most promising candidate genes for CMD having been identified as linked to CMD in a Scottish pedigree and having since been found to associate to various phenotypes of CMD. We have recently demonstrated increased insoluble DISC1 protein in the cingular cortex in approximately 20% of cases of CMD within the widely used Stanley Medical Research Institute Consortium Collection. Surprisingly, in vitro, DISC1 aggregates were cell-invasive, i.e., purified aggresomes or recombinant DISC1 fragments where internalized at an efficiency comparable to that of α-synuclein. Intracellular DISC1 aggresomes acquired gain-of-function properties in recruiting otherwise soluble proteins such as the candidate schizophrenia protein dysbindin. Disease-associated DISC1 polymorphism S704C led to a higher oligomerization tendency of DISC1. These findings justify classification of DISC1-dependent brain disorders as protein conformational disorders which we have tentatively termed DISC1opathies. The notion of disturbed proteostasis and protein aggregation as a mechanism of mental diseases is thus emerging. The yet unidentified form of neuronal impairment in CMD is more subtle than in the classical neurodegenerative diseases without leading to massive cell death and as such present a different kind of neuronal dysfunctionality, eventually confined to highly selective CNS subpopulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid / metabolism*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*


  • Amyloid
  • DISC1 protein, human
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Prions