Food and Behaviour Research

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Polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency during neurodevelopment in mice models the prodromal state of schizophrenia through epigenetic changes in nuclear receptor genes

Maekawa M, A Watanabe A, Iwayama Y, Kimura T, Hamazaki K, Balan S, Ohba H, Hisano Y, Nozaki Y, Ohnishi T, Toyoshima M, Shimamoto C, Iwamoto K, Bundo M, Osumi N, Takahashi E, Takashima A, Yoshikawa T (2017) Transl Psychiat 7,  e1229; doi:10.1038/tp.2017.182 

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The risk of schizophrenia is increased in offspring whose mothers experience malnutrition during pregnancy. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are dietary components that are crucial for the structural and functional integrity of neural cells, and PUFA deficiency has been shown to be a risk factor for schizophrenia.

Here, we show that gestational and early postnatal dietary deprivation of two PUFAs—arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—elicited schizophrenia-like phenotypes in mouse offspring at adulthood. In the PUFA-deprived mouse group, we observed lower motivation and higher sensitivity to a hallucinogenic drug resembling the prodromal symptoms in schizophrenia.

Furthermore, a working-memory task-evoked hyper-neuronal activity in the medial prefrontal cortex was also observed, along with the downregulation of genes in the prefrontal cortex involved in oligodendrocyte integrity and the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic system. Regulation of these genes was mediated by the nuclear receptor genes 
Rxr and Ppar, whose promoters were hyper-methylated by the deprivation of dietary AA and DHA.

In addition, the RXR agonist bexarotene upregulated oligodendrocyte- and GABA-related gene expression and suppressed the sensitivity of mice to the hallucinogenic drug. Notably, the expression of these nuclear receptor genes were also downregulated in hair-follicle cells from schizophrenia patients.

These results suggest that PUFA deficiency during the early neurodevelopmental period in mice could model the prodromal state of schizophrenia through changes in the epigenetic regulation of nuclear receptor genes.