Molecular hypotheses to explain the shared pathways and underlying pathobiological causes in catatonia and in catatonic presentations in neuropsychiatric disorders

Med Hypotheses. 2018 Apr:113:54-64. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2018.02.009. Epub 2018 Feb 15.


The pathobiological causes, the shared cellular and molecular pathways in catatonia and in catatonic presentation in neuropsychiatric disorders are yet to be determined. The hypotheses in this paper have been deduced from the latest scientific research findings and clinical observations of patients with genetic disorders, behavioral phenotypes and other family members suffering mental disorders. The first hypothesis postulates that catatonia and the heterogeneity of catatonic signs and symptoms involve nucleolar dysfunction arising from abnormalities of the brain-specific, non-coding micro-RNA, SNORD115 genes (either duplications or deletions) which result in pathobiological dysfunction of various combinations in the downstream pathways (possibly along with other genes in these shared pathways). SNORD115 controls five genes CRHR1, PBRM1, TAF1, DPM2, and RALGPS1 as well as the alternative splicing of serotonin 2C receptor. SNORD115 abnormalities with varying downstream multigene involvement would account for catatonia across the life span within some subtypes of autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar and major depressive disorder, psychosis, genetic disorders, and in immune disorders such as anti-N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antibody encephalitis as well as the susceptibility to the neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) if environmentally triggered. Furthermore, SNORD115 genes may underlie a genetic vulnerability when environmental triggers result in excess serotonin producing the serotonin syndrome, a condition similar to NMS in which catatonia may occur. Dysfunction of SNORD115-PBRM1 connecting with SMARCA2 as well as other proven schizophrenia-associated genes might explain why traditionally catatonia has been classified with schizophrenia. SNORD115-TAF1 and SNORD-DPM2 dysfunction introduce possible clues to the parkinsonism and increased creatinine phosphokinase in NMS, while abnormalities of SNORD115-RALGPS1 suggest links to both anti-NMDAR encephalitis and the proven predisposing catatonic SHANK3 gene. The second hypothesis postulates that periodic catatonia (PC) on 15q15 involves abnormalities of vacuolar protein sorting 39 (VPS39), a proven de novo schizophrenic gene in this chromosomal locus and part of the HOPS complex. These will impact the autophagic and endocytic pathways, thereby lowering lysosomal degradation. VPS39 mutations may be considered also to disrupt lysosome-mitochondria tethering and transport of lipids and calcium through membrane contact sites (MCSs). To account for the periodicity in PC it is speculated that the mammalian equivalent of the vacuole and mitochondria patch (vCLAMP) would be altered by VPS39 mutations and subsequently followed by the mammalian equivalent of endoplasmic reticulum mitochondria encounter structure (ERMES) restoring mitochondrial homeostasis. Future precision psychiatry will require accurate pathophysiologically-defined psychiatric diagnoses to accelerate the discovery of specific molecular-targeted medications to improve therapeutic outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing
  • Behavior
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Catatonia / physiopathology*
  • Endocytosis
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Variation
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Phenotype
  • RNA, Small Nucleolar / genetics
  • RNA, Small Nucleolar / physiology*


  • RNA, Small Nucleolar
  • SNORD115 RNA, human