The Psychiatric Risk Gene NT5C2 Regulates Adenosine Monophosphate-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling and Protein Translation in Human Neural Progenitor Cells

Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Jul 15;86(2):120-130. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.03.977. Epub 2019 Mar 30.


Background: The 5'-nucleotidase, cytosolic II gene (NT5C2, cN-II) is associated with disorders characterized by psychiatric and psychomotor disturbances. Common psychiatric risk alleles at the NT5C2 locus reduce expression of this gene in the fetal and adult brain, but downstream biological risk mechanisms remain elusive.

Methods: Distribution of the NT5C2 protein in the human dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cortical human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) was determined using immunostaining, publicly available expression data, and reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Phosphorylation quantification of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) alpha (Thr172) and ribosomal protein S6 (Ser235/Ser236) was performed using Western blotting to infer the degree of activation of AMPK signaling and the rate of protein translation. Knockdowns were induced in hNPCs and Drosophila melanogaster using RNA interference. Transcriptomic profiling of hNPCs was performed using microarrays, and motility behavior was assessed in flies using the climbing assay.

Results: Expression of NT5C2 was higher during neurodevelopment and was neuronally enriched in the adult human cortex. Knockdown in hNPCs affected AMPK signaling, a major nutrient-sensing mechanism involved in energy homeostasis, and protein translation. Transcriptional changes implicated in protein translation were observed in knockdown hNPCs, and expression changes to genes related to AMPK signaling and protein translation were confirmed using reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The knockdown in Drosophila was associated with drastic climbing impairment.

Conclusions: We provide an extensive neurobiological characterization of the psychiatric risk gene NT5C2, describing its previously unknown role in the regulation of AMPK signaling and protein translation in neural stem cells and its association with Drosophila melanogaster motility behavior.

Keywords: AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK); Drosophila melanogaster; Functional genetics; Neural stem cells; Psychiatric disorders; Ribosomal protein S6 (RPS6).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5'-Nucleotidase / genetics*
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / genetics*
  • Motor Activity / genetics
  • Movement Disorders / genetics
  • Movement Disorders / psychology
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics*
  • RNA Interference
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*


  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases
  • 5'-Nucleotidase
  • NT5C2 protein, human