Morphometric analysis of the cerebral expression of ATP-binding cassette transporter protein ABCB1 in chronic schizophrenia: Circumscribed deficits in the habenula

Schizophr Res. 2016 Nov;177(1-3):52-58. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2016.02.036. Epub 2016 Mar 3.


There is increasing evidence that microvascular abnormalities and malfunction of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) significantly contribute to schizophrenia pathophysiology. The ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCB1 is an important molecular component of the intact BBB, which has been implicated in a number of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. However, the regional and cellular expression of ABCB1 in schizophrenia is yet unexplored. Therefore, we studied ABCB1 protein expression immunohistochemically in twelve human post-mortem brain regions known to play a role in schizophrenia, in 13 patients with schizophrenia and nine controls. In ten out of twelve brain regions under study, no significant differences were found with regard to the numerical density of ABCB1-expressing capillaries between all patients with schizophrenia and control cases. The left and right habenular complex, however, showed significantly reduced capillary densities in schizophrenia patients. In addition, we found a significantly reduced density of ABCB1-expressing neurons in the left habenula. Reduced ABCB1 expression in habenular capillaries might contribute to increased brain levels of proinflammatory cytokines in patients with schizophrenia, while decreased expression of this protein in a subpopulation of medial habenular neurons (which are probably purinergic) might be related to abnormalities of purines and their receptors found in this disease.

Keywords: ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCB1; Blood–brain barrier; Habenula; Human brain microvasculature; Immunohistochemistry; Schizophrenia.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cerebrum / blood supply
  • Cerebrum / metabolism*
  • Cerebrum / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microvessels / metabolism
  • Microvessels / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*


  • ABCB1 protein, human
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B