Sex and cell-specific gene expression in corticolimbic brain regions associated with psychiatric disorders revealed by bulk and single-nuclei RNA sequencing

EBioMedicine. 2023 Sep:95:104749. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104749. Epub 2023 Aug 5.


Background: There are sex-specific differences in the prevalence, symptomology and course of psychiatric disorders. However, preclinical models have primarily used males, such that the molecular mechanisms underlying sex-specific differences in psychiatric disorders are not well established.

Methods: In this study, we compared transcriptome-wide gene expression profiles in male and female rats within the corticolimbic system, including the cingulate cortex, nucleus accumbens medial shell (NAcS), ventral dentate gyrus and the basolateral amygdala (n = 22-24 per group/region).

Findings: We found over 3000 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in the NAcS between males and females. Of these DEGs in the NAcS, 303 showed sex-dependent conservation DEGs in humans and were significantly enriched for gene ontology terms related to blood vessel morphogenesis and regulation of cell migration. Single nuclei RNA sequencing in the NAcS of male and female rats identified widespread sex-dependent expression, with genes upregulated in females showing a notable enrichment for synaptic function. Female upregulated genes in astrocytes, Drd3+MSNs and oligodendrocyte were also enriched in several psychiatric genome-wide association studies (GWAS).

Interpretation: Our data provide comprehensive evidence of sex- and cell-specific molecular profiles in the NAcS. Importantly these differences associate with anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and cross-disorder, suggesting an intrinsic molecular basis for sex-based differences in psychiatric disorders that strongly implicates the NAcS.

Funding: This work was supported by funding from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (MJM).

Keywords: Nucleus accumbens; Psychiatric disorder; RNA sequencing; Sex difference.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / genetics
  • Mental Disorders* / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transcriptome