Selective loss of smaller spines in Schizophrenia

Matthew L. MacDonald, Jamil Alhassan, Jason T. Newman, Michelle Richard, Hong Gu, Ryan M. Kelly, Alan R. Sampson, Kenneth N. Fish, Peter Penzes, Zachary P. Wills, David A. Lewis, Robert A. Sweet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Objective: Decreased density of dendritic spines in adult schizophrenia subjects has been hypothesized to result from increased pruning of excess synapses in adolescence. In vivo imaging studies have confirmed that synaptic pruning is largely driven by the loss of large ormature synapses. Thus, increased pruning throughout adolescence would likely result in a deficit of large spines in adulthood. Here, the authors examined the density and volume of dendritic spines in deep layer 3 of the auditory cortex of 20 schizophrenia and 20 matched comparison subjects as well as aberrant voltage-gated calcium channel subunit protein expression linked to spine loss. Method: Primary auditory cortex deep layer 3 spine density and volume was assessed in 20 pairs of schizophrenia and matched comparison subjects in an initial and replication cohort (12 and eight pairs) by immunohistochemistry-confocal microscopy. Targeted mass spectrometry was used to quantify postsynaptic density and voltage-gated calcium channel protein expression. The effect of increased voltage-gated calcium channel subunit protein expression on spine density and volume was assessed in primary rat neuronal culture. Results: Only the smallest spines are lost in deep layer 3 of the primary auditory cortex in subjects with schizophrenia, while larger spines are retained. Levels of the tryptic peptide ALFDFLK, found in the schizophrenia risk gene CACNB4, are inversely correlated with the density of smaller, but not larger, spines in schizophrenia subjects. Consistent with this observation, CACNB4overexpression resulted in a lower density of smaller spines in primary neuronal cultures. Conclusions: These findings require a rethinking of the overpruning hypothesis, demonstrate a link between small spine loss and a schizophrenia risk gene, and should spur more in-depth investigations of themechanisms that govern newor small spine generation and stabilization under normal conditions as well as how this process is impaired in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)586-594
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Selective loss of smaller spines in Schizophrenia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this