Brain microRNAs associated with late-life depressive symptoms are also associated with cognitive trajectory and dementia

NPJ Genom Med. 2020 Feb 6:5:6. doi: 10.1038/s41525-019-0113-8. eCollection 2020.


Late-life depression is associated with an increased risk for dementia but we have limited knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying this association. Here we investigated whether brain microRNAs, important posttranscriptional regulators of gene expression, contribute to this association. Late-life depressive symptoms were assessed annually in 300 participants of the Religious Orders Study and Rush Memory and Aging Project for a mean of 7 years. Participants underwent annual cognitive testing, clinical assessment of cognitive status, and uniform neuropathologic examination after death. microRNAs were profiled from the prefrontal cortex using NanoString platform in the discovery cohort and small RNA sequencing in the replication cohort. A global microRNA association study of late-life depressive symptoms was performed using linear mixed model adjusting for the potential confounding factors. Four brain microRNAs were associated with late-life depressive symptoms at adjusted p < 0.05: miR-484, miR-26b-5p, miR-30d-5p, and miR-197-3p. Lower expression levels of these miRNAs were associated having greater depressive symptoms. Furthermore, lower levels of miR-484 and miR-197-3p were associated with faster decline of cognition over time. Moreover, lower miR-484 level was associated with higher probability of having Alzheimer's dementia. Importantly, the associations between miR-484 and depressive symptoms and Alzheimer's dementia, respectively, were replicated in an independent cohort. Lastly, the predicted targets of miR-484 were enriched in a brain protein co-expression module involving synaptic transmission and regulation of synaptic plasticity. This study identified four brain microRNAs associated with late-life depressive symptoms assessed longitudinally. In addition, we found a molecular connection between late-life depression and dementia through miR-484.

Keywords: Depression; Molecular medicine.