Novel class of specific RNAs may explain increased depression susceptibility in females

Findings reveal the role of LINC00473 in sex-specific depression and may explain why females are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than males.

Summary: Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are significantly altered in depression in both sex and brain site-specific manners. The LINC00473 gene is downregulated in the prefrontal cortex of depressed females, but not males. Findings reveal the role of LINC00473 in sex-specific depression and may explain why females are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than males.

Source: Mount Sinai Hospital

Researchers at Mount Sinai have found that a novel class of genes known as long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) expressed in the brain may play a pivotal role in regulating mood and driving sex-specific susceptibility versus resilience to depression. In a study published online, in the journal Neuron on April 17, the team highlighted a specific gene, LINC00473, that is downregulated in the cerebral cortex of women only, shedding light on why depression affects females at twice the rate of men.

“Our study provides evidence of an important new family of molecular targets that could help scientists better understand the complex mechanisms leading to depression, particularly in women,” says Orna Issler, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Nash Family Department of Neuroscience and The Friedman Brain institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and lead author of the study. “These findings into the biological basis of depression could promote the development of more effective pharmacotherapies to address a disease that’s the leading cause of disability worldwide.”

Past research has shown that about 35 percent of the risk for depression in both sexes can be traced to genetic factors, and the remainder to environmental factors, primarily stress exposure. Long non-coding RNAs fall into a third category: epigenetic factors, which are biological processes that lead to changes in gene expression not caused by changes in the genes themselves. While research focusing on the role of lncRNAs in mood and depression is in its infancy, Mount Sinai has pushed the boundaries of the science by showing the robust regulation of this class of molecules linked to depression in a brain-region and sex-specific manner.

“Our work suggests that the complex primate brain especially uses lncRNAs to facilitate regulation of higher brain function, including mood,” explains Dr. Issler, “and that malfunction of these processes can contribute to pathologies like depression and anxiety in a sex-specific manner.” Researchers found, for example, that the LINC00473 gene is a female-specific driver of stress resilience that is impaired in female depression. They also learned it is a key regulator of mood in females, in whom it acts on the prefrontal cortex of the brain by regulating gene expression, neurophysiology, and behavior.

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This shows a depressed woman
Past research has shown that about 35 percent of the risk for depression in both sexes can be traced to genetic factors, and the remainder to environmental factors, primarily stress exposure. Image is in the public domain.

To evaluate the contribution of lncRNAs to depression, the Mount Sinai team screened thousands of candidate molecules, and using advanced bioinformatics narrowed the field to LINC00473. Through viral-mediated gene transfer, researchers expressed LINC00473 in adult mouse neurons, and showed that it induced stress resilience solely in female mice. They found that this sex-specific phenotype was accompanied by changes in synaptic function and gene expression selectively in female mice. That discovery, along with studies of human neuron-like cells in culture, led to selection of LINC00473 as the lead candidate. Other genes considered strong candidates are also being actively investigated.

“Our study opens the window to a whole new class of molecular targets that could help explain the mechanisms governing depression susceptibility and resilience, particularly in females,” says corresponding author Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine, Director of The Friedman Brain Institute, and Dean for Academic and Scientific Affairs. “Long non-coding RNAs could guide us toward better, more effective ways to treat depression and, just as importantly, to diagnose this debilitating condition. Much work remains, but we’ve provided a very promising roadmap to follow moving forward.”

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital contributed to this research.

Funding: The study was supported by grants from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (NARSAD).

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
Mount Sinai Hospital
Media Contacts:
Katherine Fenz – Mount Sinai Hospital
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“Sex-Specific Role for the Long Non-coding RNA LINC00473 in Depression”. by Dr. Issler et al.
Neuron doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2020.03.023

Abstract

Sex-Specific Role for the Long Non-coding RNA LINC00473 in Depression

Highlights
• LncRNAs are robustly altered in depression in a sex- and brain site-specific manner
• LINC00473 is downregulated in cortex of depressed females but not males
• LINC00473 expression in mouse cortex promotes stress resilience in females only
• LINC00473 regulates gene expression and physiology in a sex-specific manner

Summary

Depression is a common disorder that affects women at twice the rate of men. Here, we report that long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), a recently discovered class of regulatory transcripts, represent about one-third of the differentially expressed genes in the brains of depressed humans and display complex region- and sex-specific patterns of regulation. We identified the primate-specific, neuronal-enriched gene LINC00473 as downregulated in prefrontal cortex (PFC) of depressed females but not males. Using viral-mediated gene transfer to express LINC00473 in adult mouse PFC neurons, we mirrored the human sex-specific phenotype by inducing stress resilience solely in female mice. This sex-specific phenotype was accompanied by changes in synaptic function and gene expression selectively in female mice and, along with studies of human neuron-like cells in culture, implicates LINC00473 as a CREB effector. Together, our studies identify LINC00473 as a female-specific driver of stress resilience that is aberrant in female depression.

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