Childhood critical periods of experience-dependent plasticity are essential for the development of environmentally appropriate behavior and cognition. Disruption of critical periods can alter development of normal function and confer risk for neurodevelopmental disorders. While genes and their expression relevant to neurodevelopment are associated with schizophrenia, the molecular relationship between schizophrenia and critical periods has not been assessed systematically. Here, we apply a transcriptome-based bioinformatics approach to assess whether genes associated with the human critical period for visual cortex plasticity, a well-studied model of cortical critical periods, are aberrantly expressed in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Across two dozen datasets encompassing 522 cases and 374 controls, we find that the majority show aberrations in expression of genes associated with the critical period. We observed both hyper- and hypo-critical period plasticity phenotypes at the transcriptome level, which partially mapped to drug candidates that reverse the disorder signatures in silico. Our findings indicate plasticity aberrations in schizophrenia and their treatment may need to be considered in the context of subpopulations with elevated and others reduced plasticity. Future work should leverage ongoing consortia RNA-sequencing efforts to tease out the sources of plasticity-related transcriptional aberrations seen in schizophrenia, including true biological heterogeneity, interaction between normal development/aging and the disorder, and medication history. Our study also urges innovation towards direct assessment of visual cortex plasticity in humans with schizophrenia to precisely deconstruct the role of plasticity in this disorder.
Keywords: Bioinformatics; Critical period; Drug repurposing; Neuroplasticity; Schizophrenia; Transcriptome.
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