Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

Schahram Akbarian, M.D., Ph.D.


Schizophrenia, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, MicroRNAs, Female, In Situ Hybridization, Gene Expression Regulation


During my thesis work I studied the expression and potential function of brain expressed microRNAs (miRNAs) in human prefrontal cortex (PFC). Initially, I used combinatorial computational analysis and microarray data to identify miRNAs that are predicted with high probability to target the human Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) 3’ Untranslated Region (3’UTR) and are expressed in moderate to high levels in adult human prefrontal cortex. A subset of 10 miRNAs segregating into 5 different miRNA families (miR-30a-d, miR-103/107, miR-16/195, miR-191 and miR-495) met the above criteria. I then designed a protocol to detect these miRNAs with Locked Nucleic Acid (LNA) in situ hybridization in human prefrontal cortex and determine their layer and cellular expression patterns. LNA in situ revealed differential lamina and cellular enrichment of BDNF-related miRNAs. As an example, miR-30a-5p was found to be enriched in large pyramidal neurons of layer 3, which was verified using laser capture microdissection of layer 3 pyramidal neurons and quantitative Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qRT-PCR) following dissection of upper and deeper layers of human PFC. Parallel to this, I used miRNA qRT-PCR to determine the developmental expression of miRNAs using postmortem PFC tissues ranging from embryonic age to old adulthood and compared miRNA to BDNF protein levels. My results revealed a robust inverse correlation between BDNF-related miRNAs and BDNF protein during late maturation and aging of human prefrontal cortex. In vitro luciferase assays and/or lentivirus mediated neuronal miRNA overexpression experiments validated that at least two miRNAs, miR-30a-5p and miR-195, target human BDNF 3’UTR and mediate its translational repression.

In the second part of my thesis work I measured levels of miR-30a and miR-195 in the prefrontal cortex of patients with schizophrenia and compared them with levels of BDNF protein and BDNF-related GABAergic mRNAs. According to my results differences in miR-195 levels in a subset of subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia were found to be associated with disease related changes in BDNF protein levels and deficits in BDNF dependent GABAergic gene expression.

In the last part of my work I focused on miR-30b, another member of the miR-30 family, which I found to be reduced in the prefrontal cortex of female but not male subjects with schizophrenia. More importantly, disease related changes in miR-30b levels were strongly associated with the age of onset of the disease. Additional experiments in mouse cortex and hippocampus revealed a gender dimorphic expression pattern of this miRNA with higher expression in female brain.

Collectively, my results suggest that miRNAs could participate in novel molecular pathways that play an important role during cortical development and maturation and are potentially linked to the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disease.



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