Sex Differences in the Human Brain Transcriptome of Cases With Schizophrenia


While schizophrenia differs between males and females in the age of onset, symptomatology, and disease course, the molecular mechanisms underlying these differences remain uncharacterized. To address questions about the sex-specific effects of schizophrenia, we performed a large-scale transcriptome analysis of RNA sequencing data from 437 controls and 341 cases from two distinct cohorts from the CommonMind Consortium. Analysis across the cohorts identified a reproducible gene expression signature of schizophrenia that was highly concordant with previous work. Differential expression across sex was reproducible across cohorts and identified X- and Y-linked genes, as well as those involved in dosage compensation. Intriguingly, the sex expression signature was also enriched for genes involved in neurexin family protein binding and synaptic organization. Differential expression analysis testing a sex-by-diagnosis interaction effect did not identify any genome-wide signature after multiple testing corrections. Gene coexpression network analysis was performed to reduce dimensionality from thousands of genes to dozens of modules and elucidate interactions among genes. We found enrichment of coexpression modules for sex-by-diagnosis differential expression signatures, which were highly reproducible across the two cohorts and involved a number of diverse pathways, including neural nucleus development, neuron projection morphogenesis, and regulation of neural precursor cell proliferation. Overall, our results indicate that the effect size of sex differences in schizophrenia gene expression signatures is small and underscore the challenge of identifying robust sex-by-diagnosis signatures, which will require future analyses in larger cohorts.

Biological Psychiatry (In press)