A concerted neuron-astrocyte program declines in ageing and schizophrenia

Nature. 2024 Mar;627(8004):604-611. doi: 10.1038/s41586-024-07109-5. Epub 2024 Mar 6.


Human brains vary across people and over time; such variation is not yet understood in cellular terms. Here we describe a relationship between people's cortical neurons and cortical astrocytes. We used single-nucleus RNA sequencing to analyse the prefrontal cortex of 191 human donors aged 22-97 years, including healthy individuals and people with schizophrenia. Latent-factor analysis of these data revealed that, in people whose cortical neurons more strongly expressed genes encoding synaptic components, cortical astrocytes more strongly expressed distinct genes with synaptic functions and genes for synthesizing cholesterol, an astrocyte-supplied component of synaptic membranes. We call this relationship the synaptic neuron and astrocyte program (SNAP). In schizophrenia and ageing-two conditions that involve declines in cognitive flexibility and plasticity1,2-cells divested from SNAP: astrocytes, glutamatergic (excitatory) neurons and GABAergic (inhibitory) neurons all showed reduced SNAP expression to corresponding degrees. The distinct astrocytic and neuronal components of SNAP both involved genes in which genetic risk factors for schizophrenia were strongly concentrated. SNAP, which varies quantitatively even among healthy people of similar age, may underlie many aspects of normal human interindividual differences and may be an important point of convergence for multiple kinds of pathophysiology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / metabolism
  • Aging* / pathology
  • Astrocytes* / cytology
  • Astrocytes* / metabolism
  • Astrocytes* / pathology
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Cognition
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Neurons* / cytology
  • Neurons* / metabolism
  • Neurons* / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / pathology
  • Schizophrenia* / genetics
  • Schizophrenia* / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia* / pathology
  • Single-Cell Gene Expression Analysis
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / pathology
  • Synaptic Membranes / chemistry
  • Synaptic Membranes / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Cholesterol
  • Glutamine