A single-nucleus transcriptome-wide association study implicates novel genes in depression pathogenesis

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Mar 29:2023.03.27.23286844. doi: 10.1101/2023.03.27.23286844.


Background: Depression is a common psychiatric illness and global public health problem. However, our limited understanding of the biological basis of depression has hindered the development of novel treatments and interventions.

Methods: To identify new candidate genes for therapeutic development, we examined single-nucleus RNA sequencing (snucRNAseq) data from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (N=424) in relation to ante-mortem depressive symptoms. To complement these direct analyses, we also used genome-wide association study (GWAS) results for depression (N=500,199) along with genetic tools for inferring the expression of 22,159 genes in 7 cell types and 55 cell subtypes to perform transcriptome-wide association studies (TWAS) of depression followed by Mendelian randomization (MR).

Results: Our single-nucleus TWAS analysis identified 71 causal genes in depression that have a role in specific neocortical cell subtypes; 59 of 71 genes were novel compared to previous studies. Depression TWAS genes showed a cell type specific pattern, with the greatest enrichment being in both excitatory and inhibitory neurons as well as astrocytes. Gene expression in different neuron subtypes have different directions of effect on depression risk. Compared to lower genetically correlated traits (e.g. body mass index) with depression, higher correlated traits (e.g., neuroticism) have more common TWAS genes with depression. In parallel, we performed differential gene expression analysis in relation to depression in 55 cortical cell subtypes, and we found that genes such as ANKRD36, MADD, TAOK3, SCAI and CHUK are associated with depression in specific cell subtypes.

Conclusions: These two sets of analyses illustrate the utility of large snucRNAseq data to uncover both genes whose expression is altered in specific cell subtypes in the context of depression and to enhance the interpretation of well-powered GWAS so that we can prioritize specific susceptibility genes for further analysis and therapeutic development.

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  • Preprint