Effect that the t(1;11) translocation and mental disorders have on glutamate and NAA levels in the prefrontal lobe, as measured by MRS
1H-Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) is a MRI paradigm that allows the levels of specific metabolites to be estimated in vivo . This means that insights into the biochemical changes associated with a rare genetic change that raises the risk of mental disorders, and the impact of having a mental disorder, can potentially be made. In this study the levels of glutamate and N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) were measured at 3T field strength in three separate voxels: right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), left DLPFC and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This thesis reports that members of a family that carry a unique t(1;11)(q42.2;q14) translocation that affects DISC1 have a substantially raised risk of developing a range of mental disorders, including bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and depression. A genetic change that leads to an increase in the susceptibility to a range of mental disorders is in line with other genetic studies that have been recently reported [2, 3]. The translocation was associated with a significant reduction in right DLPFC glutamate (mean difference= -2.11, CI= -0.24: -3.98, p=0.029) and left DLPFC NAA (mean difference= -1.97, CI= -0.34: -3.61, p=0.020). Changes in these metabolites offer some support to studies in cells and rodents trying to understand the impact of the t(1;11) translocation. More specifically the results offer support to studies that have linked alterations in DISC1’s molecular biology to changes in glutamate receptors and mitochondrial function [4-6]. The results need to be interpreted with some caution due to the small sample size and the lack of a significant effect in the bilateral DLPFCs. People with a major mental disorder were also found to have significantly lower levels of glutamate in the left DLPFC (F=3.16, p=0.047). When compared to controls the reductions were significant in the people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (mean difference= -0.86, CI= -0.19: -1.51, p=0.012), but not in people with bipolar affective disorder. Glutamate levels were significantly correlated with negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia (SANS r= -0.44, CI= -0.07: - 0.70, p= 0.024). The effect of experiencing depressive symptoms was also evaluated due to support for a link in previous studies [7, 8]. Whist the participants were not recruited due their experience of depressive symptoms, metabolite levels were found to be significantly associated with depressive symptoms in all participants with a mental disorder (all three voxels, both NAA and glutamate p<0.05). The experience of depressive symptoms is not the same experiencing a depressive episode though, and further work may offer more insights into the association between metabolite changes and experience of depression. These findings provide insights into the relationship between diagnosis, current psychopathology and genetic risk in major mental disorders. The thesis provides some support that MRS imaging can be used to try understand neurobiological changes that are associated a genetic change, which is in turn linked to range of mental disorders. Interpreting the results of MRS imaging studies in humans remains challenging due to the complexity of the molecular biology that underpins the estimated metabolite levels, but where there has been a wide range of translational study into a specific protein (or genetic change) MRS may offer further information to help understand any effect in vivo.