Background: Schizophrenia is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder. A genetic variant of microRNA-137 (miR-137) has yielded significant genome-wide association with schizophrenia, suggesting that this miRNA plays a key role in its etiology. Therefore, a molecular network of interacting miR-137 targets may provide insights into the biological processes underlying schizophrenia.
Methods: We first used bioinformatics tools to obtain and analyze predicted human and mouse miR-137 targets. We then determined miR-137 levels in rat barrel cortex after environmental enrichment (EE), a neuronal plasticity model that induces upregulation of several predicted miR-137 targets. Subsequently, expression changes of these predicted targets were examined through loss of miR-137 function experiments in rat cortical neurons. Finally, we conducted bioinformatics and literature analyses to examine the targets that were upregulated upon miR-137 downregulation.
Results: Predicted human and mouse miR-137 targets were enriched in neuronal processes, such as axon guidance, neuritogenesis and neurotransmission. The miR-137 levels were significantly downregulated after EE, and we identified 5 novel miR-137 targets through loss of miR-137 function experiments. These targets fit into a glucocorticoid receptor-dependent signalling network that also includes 3 known miR-137 targets with genome-wide significant association with schizophrenia.
Limitations: The bioinformatics analyses involved predicted human and mouse miR-137 targets owing to lack of information on predicted rat miR-137 targets, whereas follow-up experiments were performed with rats. Furthermore, indirect effects in the loss of miR-137 function experiments cannot be excluded.
Conclusion: We have identified a miR-137-regulated protein network that contributes to our understanding of the molecular basis of schizophrenia and provides clues for future research into psychopharmacological treatments for schizophrenia.