Abstract: Maternal immune activation (MIA) during prenatal development is an environmental risk factor for psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia (SZ). This link is particularly well established in the case of schizophrenia. Converging lines of evidence from human and animal model studies have suggested that elevated cytokine levels in the maternal and fetal compartments are an important indication of the mechanisms driving this association. However, there is variability in susceptibility to the psychiatric risk conferred by MIA, likely influenced by genetic factors. How MIA interacts with a genetic profile susceptible to SZ is challenging to test in animal models. To address this gap, we examined whether differential gene expression responses occur in forebrain-lineage neural progenitor cells (NPCs) derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) generated from three individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and three healthy controls. Following acute (24 hour) treatment with either interferon-gamma (IFNγ; 25 ng/μl) or interleukin (IL)-1β (10 ng/μl), we identified, by RNA sequencing, 3380 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in the IFNγ-treated control lines (compared to untreated controls), and 1980 DEGs in IFNγ-treated SZ lines (compared to untreated SZ lines). Of these, 359 genes responded differently to IFNγ treatment in SZ relative to control lines, which were enriched for genes differentially expressed in adult SZ cases and in pathways related to the regulation of antigen processing, neuronal post-synaptic density, and the presynapse. There were no differentially expressed genes in the IL-1β-treatment conditions after Benjamini-Hochberg correction. Gene set enrichment analysis however showed that IL-1β impacts immune function and neuronal differentiation. Collectively, our data suggest that a) SZ NPCs show an attenuated transcriptional response to IFNγ treatment compared to control NPCs; b) IL-1β may be less relevant to NPC cultures than IFNγ and c) the genes differentially regulated in schizophrenia lines are primarily mitochondrial, loss-of-function, pre- and post-synaptic genes. Our findings particularly highlight early synaptic development as a key target for future research into the mechanisms of association between maternal immune activation and schizophrenia risk.

Journal Link: 10.1101/2021.12.15.472107 Journal Link: Publisher Website Journal Link: Download PDF Journal Link: Google Scholar