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Genes, synapses, and hallucinations
In a schizophrenia mouse model, Chun et al. found that an abnormal increase of dopamine D2 receptors in the brain's thalamic nuclei caused thalamocortical synapse deficits owing to reduced glutamate release. Antipsychotic agents or a dopamine receptor antagonist reversed this down-regulation. The defect was associated with the loss of a component of the microRNA processing machinery encoded by the dgcr8 gene.
Science, this issue p. 1178
Auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia are alleviated by antipsychotic agents that inhibit D2 dopamine receptors (Drd2s). The defective neural circuits and mechanisms of their sensitivity to antipsychotics are unknown. We identified a specific disruption of synaptic transmission at thalamocortical glutamatergic projections in the auditory cortex in murine models of schizophrenia-associated 22q11 deletion syndrome (22q11DS). This deficit is caused by an aberrant elevation of Drd2 in the thalamus, which renders 22q11DS thalamocortical projections sensitive to antipsychotics and causes a deficient acoustic startle response similar to that observed in schizophrenic patients. Haploinsufficiency of the microRNA-processing gene Dgcr8 is responsible for the Drd2 elevation and hypersensitivity of auditory thalamocortical projections to antipsychotics. This suggests that Dgcr8-microRNA-Drd2–dependent thalamocortical disruption is a pathogenic event underlying schizophrenia-associated psychosis.