Glycobiology and schizophrenia: a biological hypothesis emerging from genomic research


Mealer RG, Williams SE, Daly MJ, Scolnick EM, Cummings RD, Smoller JW. Glycobiology and schizophrenia: a biological hypothesis emerging from genomic research. Mol Psychiatry. 2020.

Date Published:

2020 May 06


Advances in genomics are opening new windows into the biology of schizophrenia. Though common variants individually have small effects on disease risk, GWAS provide a powerful opportunity to explore pathways and mechanisms contributing to pathophysiology. Here, we highlight an underappreciated biological theme emerging from GWAS: the role of glycosylation in schizophrenia. The strongest coding variant in schizophrenia GWAS is a missense mutation in the manganese transporter SLC39A8, which is associated with altered glycosylation patterns in humans. Furthermore, variants near several genes encoding glycosylation enzymes are unambiguously associated with schizophrenia: FUT9, MAN2A1, TMTC1, GALNT10, and B3GAT1. Here, we summarize the known biological functions, target substrates, and expression patterns of these enzymes as a primer for future studies. We also highlight a subset of schizophrenia-associated proteins critically modified by glycosylation including glutamate receptors, voltage-gated calcium channels, the dopamine D2 receptor, and complement glycoproteins. We hypothesize that common genetic variants alter brain glycosylation and play a fundamental role in the development of schizophrenia. Leveraging these findings will advance our mechanistic understanding of disease and may provide novel avenues for treatment development.