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Journal: Molecular psychiatry


We sought to determine whether high-dose folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with non-syndromic autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and language impairment in a double-blind placebo control setting. Forty-eight children (mean age 7 years 4  months; 82% male) with ASD and language impairment were randomized to receive 12 weeks of high-dose folinic acid (2 mg kg(-1) per day, maximum 50 mg per day; n=23) or placebo (n=25). Children were subtyped by glutathione and folate receptor-α autoantibody (FRAA) status. Improvement in verbal communication, as measured by a ability-appropriate standardized instrument, was significantly greater in participants receiving folinic acid as compared with those receiving placebo, resulting in an effect of 5.7 (1.0,10.4) standardized points with a medium-to-large effect size (Cohen’s d=0.70). FRAA status was predictive of response to treatment. For FRAA-positive participants, improvement in verbal communication was significantly greater in those receiving folinic acid as compared with those receiving placebo, resulting in an effect of 7.3 (1.4,13.2) standardized points with a large effect size (Cohen’s d=0.91), indicating that folinic acid treatment may be more efficacious in children with ASD who are FRAA positive. Improvements in subscales of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale, the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, the Autism Symptom Questionnaire and the Behavioral Assessment System for Children were significantly greater in the folinic acid group as compared with the placebo group. There was no significant difference in adverse effects between treatment groups. Thus, in this small trial of children with non-syndromic ASD and language impairment, treatment with high-dose folinic acid for 12 weeks resulted in improvement in verbal communication as compared with placebo, particularly in those participants who were positive for FRAAs.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 18 October 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.168.

Concepts: Asperger syndrome, Folic acid, Autism, Improve, Effect size, Autism spectrum, Statistical significance, Placebo


A genome-wide polygenic score (GPS), derived from a 2013 genome-wide association study (N=127,000), explained 2% of the variance in total years of education (EduYears). In a follow-up study (N=329,000), a new EduYears GPS explains up to 4%. Here, we tested the association between this latest EduYears GPS and educational achievement scores at ages 7, 12 and 16 in an independent sample of 5825 UK individuals. We found that EduYears GPS explained greater amounts of variance in educational achievement over time, up to 9% at age 16, accounting for 15% of the heritable variance. This is the strongest GPS prediction to date for quantitative behavioral traits. Individuals in the highest and lowest GPS septiles differed by a whole school grade at age 16. Furthermore, EduYears GPS was associated with general cognitive ability (~3.5%) and family socioeconomic status (~7%). There was no evidence of an interaction between EduYears GPS and family socioeconomic status on educational achievement or on general cognitive ability. These results are a harbinger of future widespread use of GPS to predict genetic risk and resilience in the social and behavioral sciences.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 19 July 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.107.

Concepts: Socioeconomic status, Genome-wide association study, Futurology, Prediction, Future, Genetics, Psychology, Scientific method


Cigarette smoking is associated with cognitive decline and dementia, but the extent of the association between smoking and structural brain changes remains unclear. Importantly, it is unknown whether smoking-related brain changes are reversible after smoking cessation. We analyzed data on 504 subjects with recall of lifetime smoking data and a structural brain magnetic resonance imaging at age 73 years from which measures of cortical thickness were extracted. Multiple regression analyses were performed controlling for gender and exact age at scanning. To determine dose-response relationships, the association between smoking pack-years and cortical thickness was tested and then repeated, while controlling for a comprehensive list of covariates including, among others, cognitive ability before starting smoking. Further, we tested associations between cortical thickness and number of years since last cigarette, while controlling for lifetime smoking. There was a diffuse dose-dependent negative association between smoking and cortical thickness. Some negative dose-dependent cortical associations persisted after controlling for all covariates. Accounting for total amount of lifetime smoking, the cortex of subjects who stopped smoking seems to have partially recovered for each year without smoking. However, it took ~25 years for complete cortical recovery in affected areas for those at the mean pack-years value in this sample. As the cortex thins with normal aging, our data suggest that smoking is associated with diffuse accelerated cortical thinning, a biomarker of cognitive decline in adults. Although partial recovery appears possible, it can be a long process.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 10 February 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2014.187.

Concepts: Psychology, Smoking, Nicotine, Regression analysis, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Cognition, Brain


Causes of the well-documented association between low levels of cognitive functioning and many adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes, poorer physical health and earlier death remain unknown. We used linkage disequilibrium regression and polygenic profile scoring to test for shared genetic aetiology between cognitive functions and neuropsychiatric disorders and physical health. Using information provided by many published genome-wide association study consortia, we created polygenic profile scores for 24 vascular-metabolic, neuropsychiatric, physiological-anthropometric and cognitive traits in the participants of UK Biobank, a very large population-based sample (N=112 151). Pleiotropy between cognitive and health traits was quantified by deriving genetic correlations using summary genome-wide association study statistics and to the method of linkage disequilibrium score regression. Substantial and significant genetic correlations were observed between cognitive test scores in the UK Biobank sample and many of the mental and physical health-related traits and disorders assessed here. In addition, highly significant associations were observed between the cognitive test scores in the UK Biobank sample and many polygenic profile scores, including coronary artery disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, major depressive disorder, body mass index, intracranial volume, infant head circumference and childhood cognitive ability. Where disease diagnosis was available for UK Biobank participants, we were able to show that these results were not confounded by those who had the relevant disease. These findings indicate that a substantial level of pleiotropy exists between cognitive abilities and many human mental and physical health disorders and traits and that it can be used to predict phenotypic variance across samples.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 26 January 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.225.

Concepts: Mental disorder, Genome-wide association study, Medicine, Coronary artery disease, Mind, Psychology, Genetics, Cognition


The pattern of structural brain alterations associated with major depressive disorder (MDD) remains unresolved. This is in part due to small sample sizes of neuroimaging studies resulting in limited statistical power, disease heterogeneity and the complex interactions between clinical characteristics and brain morphology. To address this, we meta-analyzed three-dimensional brain magnetic resonance imaging data from 1728 MDD patients and 7199 controls from 15 research samples worldwide, to identify subcortical brain volumes that robustly discriminate MDD patients from healthy controls. Relative to controls, patients had significantly lower hippocampal volumes (Cohen’s d=-0.14, % difference=-1.24). This effect was driven by patients with recurrent MDD (Cohen’s d=-0.17, % difference=-1.44), and we detected no differences between first episode patients and controls. Age of onset ⩽21 was associated with a smaller hippocampus (Cohen’s d=-0.20, % difference=-1.85) and a trend toward smaller amygdala (Cohen’s d=-0.11, % difference=-1.23) and larger lateral ventricles (Cohen’s d=0.12, % difference=5.11). Symptom severity at study inclusion was not associated with any regional brain volumes. Sample characteristics such as mean age, proportion of antidepressant users and proportion of remitted patients, and methodological characteristics did not significantly moderate alterations in brain volumes in MDD. Samples with a higher proportion of antipsychotic medication users showed larger caudate volumes in MDD patients compared with controls. This currently largest worldwide effort to identify subcortical brain alterations showed robust smaller hippocampal volumes in MDD patients, moderated by age of onset and first episode versus recurrent episode status.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 30 June 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.69.

Concepts: Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Sample size, Hippocampus, Brain, Schizophrenia


Clinical evidence suggests that mood and behavioral symptoms in premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a common, recently recognized, psychiatric condition among women, reflect abnormal responsivity to ovarian steroids. This differential sensitivity could be due to an unrecognized aspect of hormonal signaling or a difference in cellular response. In this study, lymphoblastoid cell line cultures (LCLs) from women with PMDD and asymptomatic controls were compared via whole-transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) during untreated (ovarian steroid-free) conditions and following hormone treatment. The women with PMDD manifested ovarian steroid-triggered behavioral sensitivity during a hormone suppression and addback clinical trial, and controls did not, leading us to hypothesize that women with PMDD might differ in their cellular response to ovarian steroids. In untreated LCLs, our results overall suggest a divergence between mRNA (for example, gene transcription) and protein (for example, RNA translation in proteins) for the same genes. Pathway analysis of the LCL transcriptome revealed, among others, over-expression of ESC/E(Z) complex genes (an ovarian steroid-regulated gene silencing complex) in untreated LCLs from women with PMDD, with more than half of these genes over-expressed as compared with the controls, and with significant effects for MTF2, PHF19 and SIRT1 (P<0.05). RNA and protein expression of the 13 ESC/E(Z) complex genes were individually quantitated. This pattern of increased ESC/E(Z) mRNA expression was confirmed in a larger cohort by qRT-PCR. In contrast, protein expression of ESC/E(Z) genes was decreased in untreated PMDD LCLs with MTF2, PHF19 and SIRT1 all significantly decreased (P<0.05). Finally, mRNA expression of several ESC/E(Z) complex genes were increased by progesterone in controls only, and decreased by estradiol in PMDD LCLs. These findings demonstrate that LCLs from women with PMDD manifest a cellular difference in ESC/E(Z) complex function both in the untreated condition and in response to ovarian hormones. Dysregulation of ESC/E(Z) complex function could contribute to PMDD.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 3 January 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.229.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Messenger RNA, Transcription, Gene, RNA, DNA, Protein, Gene expression


Intelligence, or general cognitive function, is phenotypically and genetically correlated with many traits, including a wide range of physical, and mental health variables. Education is strongly genetically correlated with intelligence (r g  = 0.70). We used these findings as foundations for our use of a novel approach-multi-trait analysis of genome-wide association studies (MTAG; Turley et al. 2017)-to combine two large genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of education and intelligence, increasing statistical power and resulting in the largest GWAS of intelligence yet reported. Our study had four goals: first, to facilitate the discovery of new genetic loci associated with intelligence; second, to add to our understanding of the biology of intelligence differences; third, to examine whether combining genetically correlated traits in this way produces results consistent with the primary phenotype of intelligence; and, finally, to test how well this new meta-analytic data sample on intelligence predicts phenotypic intelligence in an independent sample. By combining datasets using MTAG, our functional sample size increased from 199,242 participants to 248,482. We found 187 independent loci associated with intelligence, implicating 538 genes, using both SNP-based and gene-based GWAS. We found evidence that neurogenesis and myelination-as well as genes expressed in the synapse, and those involved in the regulation of the nervous system-may explain some of the biological differences in intelligence. The results of our combined analysis demonstrated the same pattern of genetic correlations as those from previous GWASs of intelligence, providing support for the meta-analysis of these genetically-related phenotypes.

Concepts: Biology, Wilhelm Johannsen, Heredity, Genetics, Genotype, Phenotype, Evolution, Gene


Epigenetic processes have been implicated in the pathophysiology of alcohol dependence, but the specific molecular mechanisms mediating dependence-induced neuroadaptations remain largely unknown. Here, we found that a history of alcohol dependence persistently decreased the expression of Prdm2, a histone methyltransferase that monomethylates histone 3 at the lysine 9 residue (H3K9me1), in the rat dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Downregulation of Prdm2 was associated with decreased H3K9me1, supporting that changes in Prdm2 mRNA levels affected its activity. Chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by massively parallel DNA sequencing showed that genes involved in synaptic communication are epigenetically regulated by H3K9me1 in dependent rats. In non-dependent rats, viral-vector-mediated knockdown of Prdm2 in the dmPFC resulted in expression changes similar to those observed following a history of alcohol dependence. Prdm2 knockdown resulted in increased alcohol self-administration, increased aversion-resistant alcohol intake and enhanced stress-induced relapse to alcohol seeking, a phenocopy of postdependent rats. Collectively, these results identify a novel epigenetic mechanism that contributes to the development of alcohol-seeking behavior following a history of dependence.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 30 August 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.131.

Concepts: Rat, Chromosome, Epigenetics, Gene expression, Methylation, Nucleosome, Histone, DNA


Inflammatory cytokines are commonly elevated in acute depression and are associated with resistance to monoaminergic treatment. To examine the potential role of cytokines in the pathogenesis and treatment of depression, we carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of antidepressant activity of anti-cytokine treatment using clinical trials of chronic inflammatory conditions where depressive symptoms were measured as a secondary outcome. Systematic search of the PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO and Cochrane databases, search of reference lists and conference abstracts, followed by study selection process yielded 20 clinical trials. Random effect meta-analysis of seven randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving 2370 participants showed a significant antidepressant effect of anti-cytokine treatment compared with placebo (standardised mean difference (SMD)=0.40, 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.22-0.59). Anti-tumour necrosis factor drugs were most commonly studied (five RCTs); SMD=0.33 (95% CI; 0.06-0.60). Separate meta-analyses of two RCTs of adjunctive treatment with anti-cytokine therapy and eight non-randomised and/or non-placebo studies yielded similar small-to-medium effect estimates favouring anti-cytokine therapy; SMD=0.19 (95% CI, 0.00-0.37) and 0.51 (95% CI, 0.34-0.67), respectively. Adalimumab, etanercept, infliximab and tocilizumab all showed statistically significant improvements in depressive symptoms. Meta-regression exploring predictors of response found that the antidepressant effect was associated with baseline symptom severity (P=0.018) but not with improvement in primary physical illness, sex, age or study duration. The findings indicate a potentially causal role for cytokines in depression and that cytokine modulators may be novel drugs for depression in chronically inflamed subjects. The field now requires RCTs of cytokine modulators using depression as the primary outcome in subjects with high inflammation who are free of other physical illnesses.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 18 October 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.167.

Concepts: Clinical research, Effect size, Inflammation, TGN1412, Statistics, Meta-analysis, Randomized controlled trial, Clinical trial


Previous studies on the neurocognitive impact of cannabis use have found working and declarative memory deficits that tend to normalize with abstinence. An unexplored aspect of cognitive function in chronic cannabis users is the ability to distinguish between veridical and illusory memories, a crucial aspect of reality monitoring that relies on adequate memory function and cognitive control. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that abstinent cannabis users have an increased susceptibility to false memories, failing to identify lure stimuli as events that never occurred. In addition to impaired performance, cannabis users display reduced activation in areas associated with memory processing within the lateral and medial temporal lobe (MTL), and in parietal and frontal brain regions involved in attention and performance monitoring. Furthermore, cannabis consumption was inversely correlated with MTL activity, suggesting that the drug is especially detrimental to the episodic aspects of memory. These findings indicate that cannabis users have an increased susceptibility to memory distortions even when abstinent and drug-free, suggesting a long-lasting compromise of memory and cognitive control mechanisms involved in reality monitoring.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 31 March 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.36.

Concepts: Declarative memory, Brain, Temporal lobe, Psychology, Cognition, Magnetic resonance imaging, Memory, Hippocampus