The functional connectivity between thalamic medio-dorsal nucleus (MD) and cortical regions, especially the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), is implicated in attentional processing and is anomalous in schizophrenia, a brain disease associated with polygenic risk and attentional deficits. However, the molecular and genetic underpinnings of thalamic connectivity anomalies are unclear. Given that gene co-expression across brain areas promotes synchronous interregional activity, our aim was to investigate whether coordinated expression of genes relevant to schizophrenia in MD and DLPFC may reflect thalamic connectivity anomalies in an attention-related network including the DLPFC. With this aim, we identified in datasets of post-mortem prefrontal mRNA expression from healthy controls a gene module with robust overrepresentation of genes with coordinated MD-DLPFC expression and enriched for schizophrenia genes according to the largest genome-wide association study to date. To link this gene cluster with imaging phenotypes, we computed a Polygenic Co-Expression Index (PCI) combining single-nucleotide polymorphisms predicting module co-expression. Finally, we investigated the association between PCI and thalamic functional connectivity during attention through fMRI Independent Component Analysis in 265 healthy participants. We found that PCI was positively associated with connectivity strength of a thalamic region overlapping with the MD within an attention brain circuit. These findings identify a novel association between schizophrenia-related genes and thalamic functional connectivity. Furthermore, they highlight the association between gene expression co-regulation and brain connectivity, such that genes with coordinated MD-DLPFC expression are associated with coordinated activity between the same brain regions. We suggest that gene co-expression is a plausible mechanism underlying biological phenotypes of schizophrenia.
- Coordinated gene expression
- Independent Component Analysis
- Medio-dorsal nucleus
ASJC Scopus subject areas