Multiple schizophrenia (SCZ) risk loci may be involved in gene co-regulation mechanisms, and analysis of coexpressed gene networks may help to clarify SCZ molecular basis. We have previously identified a dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) coexpression module enriched for SCZ risk genes and associated with cognitive and neuroimaging phenotypes of SCZ, as well as with response to treatment with antipsychotics. Here we aimed to identify regulatory factors modulating this coexpression module and their relevance to SCZ. We performed motif enrichment analysis to identify transcription factor (TF) binding sites in human promoters of genes coexpressed with DRD2. Then, we measured transcript levels of a group of these genes in primary mouse cortical neurons in basal conditions and upon overexpression and knockdown of predicted TFs. Finally, we analyzed expression levels of these TFs in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of SCZ patients. Our in silico analysis revealed enrichment for NURR1 and ERR1 binding sites. In neuronal cultures, the expression of genes either relevant to SCZ risk (Drd2, Gatad2a, Slc28a1, Cnr1) or indexing coexpression in our module (Btg4, Chit1, Osr1, Gpld1) was significantly modified by gain and loss of Nurr1 and Err1. Postmortem DLPFC expression data analysis showed decreased expression levels of NURR1 and ERR1 in patients with SCZ. For NURR1 such decreased expression is associated with treatment with antipsychotics. Our results show that NURR1 and ERR1 modulate the transcription of DRD2 coexpression partners and support the hypothesis that NURR1 is involved in the response to SCZ treatment.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT In the present study, we provide in silico and experimental evidence for a role of the TFs NURR1 and ERR1 in modulating the expression pattern of genes coexpressed with DRD2 in human DLPFC. Notably, genetic variations in these genes is associated with SCZ risk and behavioral and neuroimaging phenotypes of the disease, as well as with response to treatment. Furthermore, this study presents novel findings on a possible interplay between D2 receptor-mediated dopamine signaling involved in treatment with antipsychotics and the transcriptional regulation mechanisms exerted by NURR1. Our results suggest that coexpression and co-regulation mechanisms may help to explain some of the complex biology of genetic associations with SCZ.
Keywords: DLPFC; DRD2; NURR1 and ERR1; coexpression; schizophrenia; treatment with antipsychotics.
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