Growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43) and synaptophysin alterations in the dentate gyrus of patients with schizophrenia.
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Growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43) expression is critical for the proper establishment of neural circuitry, a process thought to be disrupted in schizophrenia. Previous work from our laboratory demonstrated decreased GAP-43 levels in post-mortem tissue from the entire hippocampal formation of affected individuals. In the present study, we used immunocytochemical techniques to localize alterations in GAP-43 protein to specific synapses. GAP-43 distribution was compared to that of synaptophysin, another synaptic protein known to be altered in schizophrenia. The levels and distribution of GAP-43 and synaptophysin proteins were measured in the dentate gyrus of subjects with schizophrenia and sex-, age-, and postmortem interval-matched normal controls and subjects with bipolar disorder. Tissue from subjects was provided by the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center. In control subjects, GAP-43 immunostaining was prominent in synaptic terminals in the inner molecular layer and hilar region. Subjects with schizophrenia had significant decreases in GAP-43 immunoreactivity in the hilus (p<0.05, paired t-test) and inner molecular layer (p<0.05, paired t-test) but not in the outer molecular layer. In the same tissues, synaptophysin immunoreactivity was significantly reduced in both the inner and outer molecular layers of the dentate gyrus (both p<0.01 by paired t-test), but not in the hilus. In contrast to patients with schizophrenia, GAP-43 and synaptophysin levels in subjects with bipolar disorder did not differ from controls. Given the relationship of GAP-43 and synaptophysin with the development and plasticity of synaptic connections, the observed alterations in the hippocampus of patients with schizophrenia may be related to cognitive deficits associated with this illness.