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DISC1 2010—Development in Flies, Humans, and Mice in Between

As part of our ongoing coverage of DISC1 2010, held 3-6 September 2010, in Edinburgh, the United Kingdom, we bring you a meeting missive from Antonio Rampino, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

24 September 2010. The second session in the theme Neurodevelopment and Model Systems was chaired by Professor Alcino Silva, University of California, Los Angeles, and opened with a talk by Hongjung Song of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, entitled “Regulation of dentate granule cell development by DISC1.” In the first part of his presentation, Song showed a series of studies demonstrating that hippocampal dentate granule cells form a lifelong regenerating tissue in the context of which new cells are continuously born during the lifespan. Both internal and environmental stimuli contribute to regulate such a regeneration process, and the focus of Song’s discussion was on the role of DISC1 as an intrinsic factor in such a process. Previous work by Song’s group has clarified that DISC1 functions to downregulate the development of newborn dentate granule cells, possibly through its diverse interactions with NDE1, FEZ1, and AKT/mTOR-girdin (see SRF related news story; SRF news story), and that GABA-mediated depolarization of these neurons enhances their maturation and integration in the adult hippocampus. Here, Song presented data showing how DISC1 and GABA actually operate together in the fine regulation of such processes. Song reported that a precocious dendritic growth, inducible by DISC1 knockdown during adult neurogenesis in hippocampal neurons, requires NKCC1-dependent depolarizing GABA signaling in these neurons. Such regulation of dendritic growth is detectable in adult but not in early postnatal hippocampus neurogenesis, suggesting a critical role of neurodevelopment timing in DISC1-GABA-NKCC1 coordinated action. He also cited evidence from Daniel Weinberger's group at NIMH that DISC1 rs1000731 and NKCC1 rs10089 variants show an epistatic interaction in regulating neuronal growth and in inducing risk for schizophrenia.

Finally, Song mentioned an ongoing study exploring the role of DISC1 in human neurogenesis in a patient-derived iPS cell context. iPS cells were obtained by Russell Margolis of Johns Hopkins from a family of patients with a C-terminal deletion of full-length DISC1 (+/-), and the pedigree from this family eventually showed an association between this DISC1 mutation and the presence of psychiatric conditions.

The second speaker of the day was Kozo Kaibuchi, from Nagoya University, who talked about the role of DISC1 as a cargo protein. Much evidence is already available about the role of DISC1 in neuronal migration through its interaction with NUDEL/LIS1, FEZ1, and GSK3 (see SRF related news story and SRF news story), and new data provide evidence that in rat hippocampal neurons, DISC1 regulates axonal transport of the NUDEL/LIS1/14-3-3 epsilon complex, Grb2, and girdin through kinesin-1. As a step forward, Kaibuchi’s group has evidence implicating DISC1 as cargo for RNA-binding molecules, including hematopoietic zinc finger (HZF), which participates in the dendritic localization of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor type 1 (IP3R1) mRNA, SYNCRIP, and KIF5A. A series of experiments on rat hippocampal neurons showed that DISC1 colocalizes with KIF5A, SYNCRIP, HZF, and IP3R1-3’UTR RNA, and is co-transported with IP3R1-3’UTR RNA. DISC1 knockdown inhibits both this transport process and the BDNF-induced local translation of IP3R1 mRNA. At the same time, kinesin-1 interacts with DISC1, mediating the transport of DISC1 and IP3R1 mRNA along microtubules, thus suggesting that DISC1 with HZF binds IP3R1 mRNA and thereby regulates its dendritic transport as a cargo adaptor for local translational processes.

In the second half of his talk, Kaibuchi reported results from his group’s recent work on DISC1 homozygous knockout mice, showing surprising evidence that DISC1 total inhibition in these animals doesn’t produce any gross abnormality in brain cyto-architecture.

The following talk was given by Jill Morris, from Northwestern University, Chicago, and was entitled “Disc1 regulates the migration of embryonic-born granule cells in the developing hippocampus.” Morris opened her presentation by summarizing the existing evidence about the importance of hippocampal abnormalities in schizophrenia and the role that DISC1 could have in regulating neurodevelopmental processes in this area of the brain. In situ hybridization experiments in mouse hippocampal tissue show that DISC1 is strongly expressed in this tissue through different stages of neurodevelopment into adulthood, with a possible specific cell-type pattern of expression. Interestingly DISC1 is expressed in cells of the dentate migratory stream, whose migration is crucial for the integration into local hippocampal networks and the formation of the adult dentate gyrus. Moreover, reduction in DISC1 expression levels through an shRNA approach in mouse developing hippocampus was shown to proportionally reduce granule cell migration, a phenotype that was rescued by DISC1 overexpression. Cell proliferation and death were not affected by DISC1 knockdown, nor was pyramidal cells migration. Very interestingly, new unpublished data by Morris and colleagues show that targeting DISC1 shRNA knockdown on specific DISC1 isoforms reveals that the role of DISC1 in granule cells migration is isoform specific.

The last talk in this session was by Katsuo Furukubo-Tokunaga of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and was entitled “Modeling schizophrenia in flies.” This interesting contribution to the conference brought new data regarding an unexplored field of psychiatric research. Furukubo-Tokunaga discussed the importance of having a genetically tractable model for schizophrenia and other mental disorders, and presented the particular case of Drosophila melanogaster. This model is particularly useful to study the effect of DISC1 manipulation because Drosophila do not possess a DISC1 gene. Furukubo-Tokunaga’s group introduced the human DISC1 gene into the fly, thus having the unique possibility to analyze the effect of the gene on a number of cognitive and behavioral phenotypes in vivo. Results from this experiment showed that DISC1 causes no gross anatomical abnormalities in the fly, while showing significant expression levels in the mushroom body, a brain area critical for involved in cognitive function in Drosophila. Furthermore, DISC1 expression in the fly’s brain was associated with increased sleep amount, suppression of axonal branching in neurons, and impairments in olfactory associative learning in the fly’s larvae.

Moreover, the use of DISC1 deletion constructs in this animal model made it possible to explore many previously unknown functional domains in the DISC1 protein.—Antonio Rampino.

Comments on Related News

Related News: DISC1 Delivers—Genetic, Molecular Studies Link Protein to Axonal Transport

Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 12 January 2007
Posted 12 January 2007

Although DISC1 is multifunctional, its role for neurite outgrowth has been substantially characterized for the past couple of years (Ozeki et al., 2003; Miyoshi et al., 2003; Kamiya et al., 2006). These studies indicated that DISC1 is involved in neurite outgrowth by more than one mechanism, such as interactions with NUDEL/NDEL1 and FEZ1.

These two papers from Kaibuchi’s lab provide further understanding of how DISC1 is involved in neuronal outgrowth. Kaibuchi’s group identified kinesin heavy chain of kinesin-1 as a novel interactor of DISC1. In their papers, a novel role for DISC1, to link kinesin-1 (microtubule-dependent and plus-end directed motor) to several cellular molecules, including NUDEL, LIS1, 14-3-3, and Grb2, is reported. DISC1 and kinesin-1 are, therefore, responsible to sort Grb2 to the distal part of axons where Grb2 functions as an adaptor and plays a role in NT-3-induced phosphorylation of ERK1/2. This mechanism well explains our previous work, led by Ryota Hashimoto, reporting that knockdown of DISC1 expression results in decreased levels of phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and Akt in primary cortical neurons (Hashimoto et al., 2006).

The interaction of DISC1 and kinesin-1 may also be interesting from the perspective of psychiatric genetics. First, the mechanism proposed in one of the papers (Taya et al., 2007) supports the notion that the C-terminal truncated DISC1 fragment—that occurs due to the balanced translocation in an extended Scottish family—functions as a dominant-negative. Second, the domain of DISC1 responsible for kinesin-1 is overlapped with the haplotype block region(s) that are positive in more than one association study of DISC1 and major mental illnesses.

View all comments by Akira Sawa

Related News: DISC1 Delivers—Genetic, Molecular Studies Link Protein to Axonal Transport

Comment by:  Luiz Miguel Camargo (Disclosure)
Submitted 13 January 2007
Posted 13 January 2007

Two recent back-to-back papers, published this month in Journal of Neuroscience, highlight the value of protein-protein interactions in determining the biological role of a key schizophrenia risk factor, DISC1, in processes that are important for the proper development of neurons.

Key questions need to be addressed once having established a set of interactors for a given protein. First, where do these proteins interact on the target molecule? Second, do these interactions take place at the same time (i.e., do they form a complex)? Third, in what context do these interactions occur (temporal, tissue/cell compartment, signaling), and, fourth, are the biological processes of the interacting molecules affected/regulated by the protein of interest? The Kaibuchi lab, as exemplified in the works by Taya et al. and Shinoda et al., elegantly address some of these questions in the context of DISC1 interactions with Grb2, Nudel (NDEL1), 14-3-3ε, and kinesin-1. The key findings of these papers are as follows:

1. Identification of the interaction sites, or more importantly, which part of DISC1 is involved in particular processes, for example, that axon elongation is dependent on the N-terminal, but not the C-terminal portion of DISC1. This suggests that the DISC1 role in axon elongation is mediated by interactions with the N-terminal portion of DISC1 that could be competed for by the truncated protein in a dominant negative fashion (Camargo et al., 2007).

2. Although a protein may have many interacting partners, such as DISC1, these interactions may not occur at the same time. For example, DISC1 is able to form a ternary complex with kinesin-1 and NDEL1 or with kinesin-1 and Grb2. However, a ternary complex of DISC1-Grb2-NDEL1 is not possible as Grb2 and NDEL1 may be competing for the same interaction site on DISC1.

3. Protein interactions may occur in certain cellular compartments, in the case of DISC1, the cell body and the distal part of axons.

4. Neurotrophin-induced axon elongation requires DISC1.

These papers confirm some of the hypotheses raised by the interactions that we have recently derived for DISC1 and some of its interacting partners (see Camargo et al., 2007). From the DISC1 interactome, we concluded that DISC1 may affect key intracellular transport mechanisms, such as those regulated by kinesins, and that DISC1 may be downstream of neurotrophin receptors, via its interaction with SH3BP5, an adaptor protein, which we found to interact with SOS1, a guanine exchange factor that binds Grb2 and responds to signaling of neurotrophin receptors. These observations have been validated by Taya et al. and Shinoda et al. and demonstrate the value of the DISC1 interactome in understanding the role of DISC1, and as a valuable resource to the wider community.

The molecular function of DISC1, as defined by its structure, still remains elusive, requiring a more dedicated effort on this front. The good news is that, via its protein-protein interactions, significant progress on the role of DISC1 in key biological processes has been achieved, as illustrated by the work of different labs (Brandon et. al., 2004; Millar et al., 2005; Kamiya et al., 2005; and now by Shinoda et al. and Taya et al.).

View all comments by Luiz Miguel Camargo

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Barbara K. Lipska
Submitted 9 September 2007
Posted 9 September 2007

Several recent studies on disruptions of the DISC1 gene in mice illustrate the great potential of genetic approaches to studying functions of putative schizophrenia susceptibility genes but also signal the complexity of the problem. An initial rationale for studying the effects of mutations in DISC1 came from the discovery of the chromosomal translocation, resulting in a breakpoint in the DISC1 gene that co-segregated with major mental illness in a Scottish family (reviewed by Porteous et al., 2006). These clinical findings were followed by a number of association studies, which reported that numerous SNPs across the gene were associated with schizophrenia and mood disorders and a variety of intermediate phenotypes, suggesting that other problems in the DISC1 gene may exist in other subjects/populations.

Recent animal models designed to mimic partial loss of DISC1 function suggested that DISC1 is necessary to support development of the cerebral cortex as its loss resulted in impaired neurite outgrowth and the spectrum of behavioral abnormalities characteristic of major mental disorders ( Kamiya et al., 2005; Koike et al., 2006; Clapcote et al., 2007; Hikida et al. 2007). Unexpectedly, however, the paper by Duan et al., 2007, is showing that DISC1 may also function as a brake and master regulator of neuronal development, and that its partial loss could lead to the opposite effects than previously described, i.e., dendritic overgrowth and accelerated synapse formation and faster maturation of newly generated neurons. In contrast to previous studies, they have used the DISC1 knockdown model achieved by RNA interference in a subpopulation of single cells of the dentate gyrus. Other emerging studies continue to reveal the highly complex nature of the DISC1 gene with multiple isoforms exhibiting different functions, perhaps depending on localization, timing, and interactions with a multitude of other genes’ products, some of which confer susceptibility to mental illness independent of DISC1. Similar molecular complexity has also emerged in other susceptibility genes for schizophrenia: GRM3 (Sartorius et al., 2006), NRG1 (Tan et al., 2007), and COMT (Tunbridge et al., 2007). With the growing knowledge about transcript complexity, it becomes increasingly clear that subtle disturbances of isoform(s) of susceptibility gene products and disruptions of intricate interactions between the susceptibility genes may account for the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders. Research in animals will have a critical role in disentangling this web of interwoven genetic pathways.

View all comments by Barbara K. Lipska

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 13 September 2007
Posted 13 September 2007

I am very glad that our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University have published a very intriguing paper in Cell, showing a novel role for DISC1 in adult hippocampus. This is very consistent with previous publications (Miyoshi et al., 2003; Kamiya et al., 2005; and others; reviewed by Ishizuka et al., 2006), and adds a new insight into a key role for DISC1 during neurodevelopment. In short, DISC1 is a very important regulator in various phases of neurodevelopment, which is reinforced in this study. Specifically, DISC1 is crucial for regulating neuronal migration and dendritic development—for acceleration in the developing cerebral cortex, and for braking in the adult hippocampus.

There is precedence for signaling molecules playing the same role in different contexts, with the resulting molecular activity going in different directions. For example, FOXO3 (a member of the Forkhead transcription factor family) plays a role in cell survival/death in a bidirectional manner (Brunet et al., 2004). FOXO3 endows cells with resistance to oxidative stress in some contexts, and induces apoptosis in other contexts. SIRT1 (known as a key modulator of organismal lifespan) deacetylates FOXO3 and tips FOXO3-dependent responses away from apoptosis and toward stress resistance. In analogy to FOXO3, context-dependent post-translational modifications, such as phosphorylation, may be an underlying mechanism for DISC1 to function in a bidirectional manner. Indeed, a collaborative team at Johns Hopkins, including Pletnikov's lab, Song's lab, and ours, has started exploring, in both cell and animal models, the molecular switch that makes DISC1's effects bidirectional.


Brunet A, Sweeney LB, Sturgill JF, Chua KF, Greer PL, Lin Y, Tran H, Ross SE, Mostoslavsky R, Cohen HY, Hu LS, Cheng HL, Jedrychowski MP, Gygi SP, Sinclair DA, Alt FW, Greenberg ME. Stress-dependent regulation of FOXO transcription factors by the SIRT1 deacetylase. Science. 2004 Mar 26;303(5666):2011-5. Abstract

View all comments by Akira Sawa

Related News: DISC1: A Maestro of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis?

Comment by:  Sharon Eastwood
Submitted 14 September 2007
Posted 14 September 2007

Recent findings, including the interactome study by Camargo et al., 2007, and this beautiful study by Duan and colleagues, implicate DISC1 (a leading candidate schizophrenia susceptibility gene) in synaptic function, consistent with prevailing ideas of the disorder as one of the synapse and connectivity (see Stephan et al., 2006). As we learn more about DISC1 and its protein partners, evidence demonstrating the importance of microtubules in the regulation of several neuronal processes (see Eastwood et al., 2006, for review) suggests that DISC1’s interactions with microtubule associated proteins (MAPs) may underpin its pathogenic influence.

DISC1 has been shown to bind to several MAPs (e.g., MAP1A, MIPT3) and other proteins important in regulating microtubule function (see Kamiya et al., 2005; Porteous et al., 2006). As a key component of the cell cytoskeleton, microtubules are involved in many cellular processes including mitosis, motility, vesicle transport, and morphology, and their dynamics are regulated by MAPs, which modulate microtubule polymerization, stability, and arrangement. Decreased microtubule stability in mutant mice for one MAP, stable tubule only polypeptide (STOP; MAP6), results in behavioral changes relevant to schizophrenia and altered synaptic protein expression (Andrieux et al., 2002; Eastwood et al., 2006), indicating the importance of microtubules in synaptic function and suggesting that they may be a molecular mechanism contributing to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Likewise, DISC1 mutant mice exhibit behavioral alterations characteristic of psychiatric disorders (e.g., Clapcote et al., 2007), and altered microtubule dynamics are thought to underlie perturbations in cerebral cortex development and neurite outgrowth caused by decreased DISC1 expression or that of a schizophrenia-associated DISC1 mutation (Kamiya et al., 2005).

Our interpretation of the possible functions of DISC1 has been complicated by the unexpected findings of Duan and colleagues that DISC1 downregulation during adult hippocampal neurogenesis leads to overextended neuronal migration and accelerated dendritic outgrowth and synaptic formation. In terms of neuronal positioning, they suggest that their results indicate that DISC1 may relay positional signals to the intracellular machinery, rather than directly mediate migration. In this way, decreased DISC1 expression may result in the mispositioning of newly formed neurons rather than a simple decrease or increase in their migratory distance. Of note, MAP1B, a neuron-specific MAP important in regulating microtubule stability and the crosstalk between microtubules and actin, is required for neurons to correctly respond to netrin 1 signaling during neuronal migration and axonal guidance (Del Rio et al., 2004), and DISC1 may function similarly during migration. Reconciling differences between the effect of decreased DISC1 expression upon neurite outgrowth during neurodevelopment and adult neurogenesis is more difficult, but could be due to differences in the complement of MAPs expressed by different neuronal populations at different times. Regardless, the results of Duan and colleagues have provided additional evidence implicating DISC1 in neuronal functions thought to go awry in schizophrenia. Further characterization of DISC1’s interactions with microtubules and MAPs may lead to a better understanding of the role of DISC1 in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders.


Andrieux A, Salin PA, Vernet M, Kujala P, Baratier J, Gory Faure S, Bosc C, Pointu H, Proietto D, Schweitzer A, Denarier E, Klumperman J, Job D (2002). The suppression of brain cold-stable microtubules in mice induces synaptic deficits associated with neuroleptic-sensitive behavioural disorders. Genes Dev. 16: 2350-2364. Abstract

Camargo LM, Collura V, Rain JC, Mizuguchi K, Hermjakob H, Kerrien S, Bonnert TP, Whiting PJ, Brandon NJ (2007). Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 Interactome: evidence for the close connectivity of risk genes and a potential synaptic basis for schizophrenia. Mol. Psychiatry 12: 74-86. Abstract

Clapcote SJ, Lipina TV, Millar JK, Mackie S, Christie S, Ogawa F, Lerch JP, Trimble K, Uchiyama M, Sakuraba Y, Kaneda H, Shiroishi T, Houslay MD, Henkelman RM, Sled JG, Gondo Y, Porteous DJ, Roder JC (2007). Behavioral phenotypes of Disc1 missense mutations in mice. Neuron 54: 387-402. Abstract

Del Rio, J.A., Gonzalez-Billault, C., Urena, J.M., Jimenez, E.M., Barallobre, M.J., Pascual, M., Pujadas, L., Simo, S., La Torre, A., Wandosell, F., Avila, J. and Soriano, E. (2004). MAP1B is required for netrin 1 signaling in neuronal migration and axonal guidance. Cur. Biol. 14: 840-850. Abstract

Eastwood SL, Lyon L, George L, Andrieux A, Job D, Harrison PJ (2006). Altered expression of synaptic protein mRNAs in STOP (MAP6) mutant mice. J. Psychopharm. 21: 635-644. Abstract

Kamiya A, Kubo K, Tomoda T, Takaki M, Youn R, Ozeki Y, Sawamura N, Park U, Kudo C, Okawa M, Ross CA, Hatten ME, Nakajima K, Sawa A. A schizophrenia-associated mutation of DISC1 perturbs cerebral cortex development. Nat Cell Biol. 2005 Dec;7(12):1167-78. Epub 2005 Nov 20. Erratum in: Nat Cell Biol. 2006 Jan;8(1):100. Abstract

Porteous DJ, Thomson P, Brandon NJ, Millar JK (2006). The genetics and biology of DISC1-an emerging role in psychosis and cognition. Biol. Psychiatry 60: 123-131. Abstract

Stephan KE, Baldeweg T, Friston KJ (2006). Synaptic plasticity and disconnection in schizophrenia. Biol. Psychiatry 59: 929-939. Abstract

View all comments by Sharon Eastwood

Related News: DISC1 Players Gird For Adult Neurodevelopment

Comment by:  Kevin J. Mitchell
Submitted 8 October 2009
Posted 8 October 2009

The seminal identification of mutations in DISC1 associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders raises several obvious questions: what does the DISC1 protein normally do? What are its biochemical and cellular functions, and what processes are affected by its mutation? How do defects in these cellular processes ultimately lead to altered brain function and psychopathology? Which brain systems are affected and how? Similar questions could be asked for the growing number of other genes that have been implicated by the identification of putatively causal mutations, including NRG1, ERBB4, NRXN1, CNTNAP2, and many copy number variants. Finding the points of biochemical or phenotypic convergence for these proteins or mutations may be key to understanding how mutations in so many different genes can lead to a similar clinical phenotype and to suggesting points of common therapeutic intervention.

The papers by Kim et al. and Enomoto et al. add more detail to the complex picture of the biochemical interactions of DISC1 and its diverse cellular functions. The links with Akt and PTEN signaling are especially interesting, given the previous implication of these proteins in schizophrenia and autism. Akt, in particular, may provide a link between Nrg1/ErbB4 signaling and DISC1 intracellular functions.

These studies also reinforce the importance of DISC1 and its interacting partners in neurodevelopment, specifically in cell migration and axonal extension. In particular, they highlight the roles of these proteins in postnatal hippocampal development and adult hippocampal neurogenesis. They also raise the question of which extracellular signals and receptors regulate these processes through these signalling pathways. The Nrg1/ErbB4 pathway has already been implicated, but there are a multitude of other cell migration and axon guidance cues known to regulate hippocampal development, some of which, for example, semaphorins, signal through the PTEN pathway.

Whether or how disruptions in these developmental processes contribute to psychopathology also remains unclear. It seems likely that the effects of mutations in any of these genes will be highly pleiotropic and have effects in many brain systems. The reported pathology in schizophrenia is not restricted to hippocampus but extends to cortex, thalamus, cerebellum, and many other regions. Similarly, while the cognitive deficits receive a justifiably large amount of attention, given that they may have the most clinical impact, motor and sensory deficits are also a stable and consistent part of the syndrome that must be explained. Pleiotropic effects on prenatal and postnatal development, as well as on adult processes, may actually be the one common thread characterizing the genes so far implicated. These new papers represent the first steps in the kinds of detailed biological studies that will be required to make explanatory links from mutations, through biochemical and cellular functions, to effects on neuronal networks and ultimately psychopathology.

View all comments by Kevin J. Mitchell

Related News: DISC1 Players Gird For Adult Neurodevelopment

Comment by:  Peter PenzesMichael Cahill
Submitted 8 October 2009
Posted 8 October 2009

DISC1 disruption by chromosomal translocation cosegregates with several neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia (Blackwood et al., 2001; Millar et al., 2000). Recent attention has focused on the effects of DISC1 on the structure and function of the dentate gyrus, one of the few brain regions that exhibit neurogenesis throughout life. The downregulation of DISC1 has several deleterious effects on the dentate gyrus, including aberrant neuronal migration (Duan et al., 2007). However, the mechanisms through which DISC1 regulates the structure and function of the dentate gyrus remain unknown. The dentate gyrus and its output to the CA3 area, the mossy fiber, show several abnormalities in schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric diseases (Kobayashi, 2009). Thus, understanding how a gene associated with neuropsychiatric disease, DISC1, mechanistically impacts the dentate gyrus is an important question with much clinical relevance.

The recent papers by Kim et al. and Enomoto et al. characterize an interaction between DISC1 and girdin (also known as KIAA1212), and reveal how girdin, and the interaction between DISC1 and girdin, impact axon development, dendritic development, and the proper positioning of newborn neurons in the dentate gyrus. Girdin normally stimulates the function of AKT (Anai et al., 2005), and Kim et al. show that DISC1 binds to girdin and inhibits its function. Thus, the loss of DISC1 leaves girdin unopposed, resulting in excessive AKT signaling. Indeed, the developmental defects in neurons lacking DISC1 can be rescued by pharmacologically blocking the activation of an AKT downstream target. However, as shown by Enomoto et al., the loss of girdin produces deleterious effects on neuronal morphology, suggesting that a proper balance of girdin function is crucial.

Collectively, these studies thoroughly characterize the interaction between DISC1 and girdin, and shed much light on the consequences of this interaction on neuronal morphology as well as on the positioning of neurons in the dentate gyrus. The role of girdin in the pathology of neuropsychiatric diseases is unknown, and remains an interesting question for the future. Characterizing the molecules that act up- or downstream of DISC1 remains an important area of investigation and could aid the development of pharmacological interventions in the future. It’s intriguing that DISC1 acting through girdin regulates the activity of AKT as AKT1 was previously identified as a schizophrenia risk gene (Emamian et al., 2004). This suggests a convergence of multiple schizophrenia-associated genes in a shared pathway, and thus it will be important to determine if the DISC1-girdin-AKT1 pathway is particularly vulnerable in neuropsychiatric disorders.


Blackwood DH, Fordyce A, Walker MT, St Clair DM, Porteous DJ, Muir WJ. Schizophrenia and affective disorders--cosegregation with a translocation at chromosome 1q42 that directly disrupts brain-expressed genes: clinical and P300 findings in a family. Am J Hum Genet . 2001 Aug 1 ; 69(2):428-33. Abstract

Millar JK, Christie S, Semple CA, Porteous DJ. Chromosomal location and genomic structure of the human translin-associated factor X gene (TRAX; TSNAX) revealed by intergenic splicing to DISC1, a gene disrupted by a translocation segregating with schizophrenia. Genomics . 2000 Jul 1 ; 67(1):69-77. Abstract

Duan X, Chang JH, Ge S, Faulkner RL, Kim JY, Kitabatake Y, Liu XB, Yang CH, Jordan JD, Ma DK, Liu CY, Ganesan S, Cheng HJ, Ming GL, Lu B, Song H. Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Cell . 2007 Sep 21 ; 130(6):1146-58. Abstract

Kobayashi K. Targeting the hippocampal mossy fiber synapse for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Mol Neurobiol . 2009 Feb 1 ; 39(1):24-36. Abstract

Anai M, Shojima N, Katagiri H, Ogihara T, Sakoda H, Onishi Y, Ono H, Fujishiro M, Fukushima Y, Horike N, Viana A, Kikuchi M, Noguchi N, Takahashi S, Takata K, Oka Y, Uchijima Y, Kurihara H, Asano T. A novel protein kinase B (PKB)/AKT-binding protein enhances PKB kinase activity and regulates DNA synthesis. J Biol Chem . 2005 May 6 ; 280(18):18525-35. Abstract

Emamian ES, Hall D, Birnbaum MJ, Karayiorgou M, Gogos JA. Convergent evidence for impaired AKT1-GSK3beta signaling in schizophrenia. Nat Genet . 2004 Feb 1 ; 36(2):131-7. Abstract

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Related News: Dynamic Duo: DISC1 and Dixdc1 Team Up to Regulate Brain Development

Comment by:  Kevin J. Mitchell
Submitted 19 July 2010
Posted 19 July 2010

The paper by Singh and colleagues adds to the growing list of proteins that interact with DISC1 and deepens our understanding of the biochemical pathways through which DISC1 modulates various neurodevelopmental processes. They demonstrate that the Dixdc1 protein interacts biochemically with DISC1, and that it functions together with DISC1 in two separable processes: neuronal proliferation and migration.

Interestingly, the nature of the interaction between Dixdc1 and DISC1 differs in these two processes. Knockdown of either Dixdc1 or DISC1 reduces proliferation, but the effects of knocking both down together are additive, indicating the absence of any epistatic interaction. Moreover, the effects of knockdown of either gene alone can be rescued by overexpressing the other gene. This suggests a partial redundancy in their functions rather than an intimate relationship where they necessarily work together.

Knockdown of either gene also disrupts neuronal migration in the cortex, but in this case the defects cannot be rescued by overexpression of the other gene, suggesting they may work more closely together in this context. These genes also act in distinct biochemical pathways in each context—through the Wnt/β-catenin pathway in proliferation and through a Cdk5-modulated Ndel1 pathway in cell migration, which impinges on the cytoskeleton.

These findings have several implications for the ongoing quest to understand the pathogenic mechanisms by which disruption of DISC1 pathways can result in psychiatric disease. First, as with PDE4B, NDE1, and PCM1, for example, they provide—through guilt by association—another viable candidate gene, Dixdc1, that may be analyzed for mutations in upcoming whole-genome sequencing efforts. More importantly, perhaps, they provide the means to dissociate the various functions of DISC1 during neurodevelopment.

One of the major difficulties in moving from gene identification to pathogenic mechanism has been that many of the genes with mutations linked to schizophrenia have highly pleiotropic effects; they play roles in many different processes, any one of which, or all of which together, might be responsible for the pathogenic effects. By dissecting the biochemical pathways mediating the different cellular functions of genes like DISC1, we can hope to develop animal models that can dissociate these functions and begin to dissect their contributions to pathogenesis.

View all comments by Kevin J. Mitchell

Related News: Dynamic Duo: DISC1 and Dixdc1 Team Up to Regulate Brain Development

Comment by:  David J. Porteous, SRF Advisor
Submitted 21 July 2010
Posted 21 July 2010

The high prevalence of schizophrenia and related major mental illness, including bipolar disorder, in the Scottish family with the chromosome 1;11 translocation told us that the breakpoint gene DISC1 was an important key to unlocking the door on the molecular mechanisms underlying psychiatric illness (Millar et al., 2000; Blackwood et al., 2001). And so it has turned out to be (see review by Chubb et al., 2008). DISC1 is a scaffold protein that binds to and regulates other proteins critical in neurodevelopment and neurosignaling. We know the identity of several DISC1 interactors—PDE4, NDE1, NDEL1, PCM1, and Girdin amongst them—but at every turn, a new interactor seems to turn up.

Just last year, Li-Huei Tsai’s group identified GSK3β as a fascinating addition to the pantheon (Mao et al., 2009). GSK3β is interesting on two major counts: first, for its role in Wnt signalling and neuronal transcription; second, as a target for the action of lithium, the front-line treatment for bipolar disorder. Now, her group reports on another novel DISC1 interactor, Dixdc1. I won’t attempt to summarize the whole story—see the SRF news story for more background and details and then seek out the original for the full story—but hers is a “must-read” study. The key points are that 1) Dixdc1 is a novel and potent DISC1 interactor; 2) Dixdc1, like DISC1, modulates GSK3β and Wnt signalling; 3) the Wnt pathway regulates neuronal progenitor proliferation; 4) the effects of DISC1 and Dixdc1 are additive and compensatory; 5) the same is true for their effect in neuronal migration, which occurs not through Wnt signaling, but rather through Cdk5-mediated, phosphorylation-dependent tripartite interaction with NDEL1.

This important new work highlights yet again the insights emerging from the DISC1 complex and its manifold consequences. It needs to be integrated with other recent important findings, including the link through Girdin to AKT signalling (Kim et al., 2009; Enomoto et al., 2009), which in turn links back to GSK3β and Wnt signaling. It also connects to other recent work suggesting a convergent link between DISC1 and a second, strong genetic candidate risk factor for major mental illness, NRG1, mediated via Erb2/3 and P13K/AKT (Seshadri et al., 2010) and to glutamatergic neurotransmission (Hayashi-Takagi et al., 2010).

It is worth reflecting whether or how these connections would have been made without the start point of DISC1 as an unambiguous causal link to psychiatric illness (Porteous, 2008). The new study raises important questions about the potential contribution to genetic risk from variation in each of these DISC1 pathway genes (Porteous, 2008; Hennah and Porteous, 2009). It begs the question of which proteins bind DISC1 in developmental time and cellular space and how this all affects neurodevelopment, neurosignaling, and brain circuitry (Porteous and Millar, 2009).


Blackwood DH, Fordyce A, Walker MT, St. Clair DM, Porteous DJ, Muir WJ. Schizophrenia and affective disorders--cosegregation with a translocation at chromosome 1q42 that directly disrupts brain-expressed genes: clinical and P300 findings in a family. Am J Hum Genet. 2001;69:428-33. Abstract

Chubb JE, Bradshaw NJ, Soares DC, Porteous DJ, Millar JK. The DISC locus in psychiatric illness. Mol Psychiatry. 2008;13:36-64. Abstract

Enomoto A, Asai N, Namba T, Wang Y, Kato T, Tanaka M, Tatsumi H, Taya S, Tsuboi D, Kuroda K, Kaneko N, Sawamoto K, Miyamoto R, Jijiwa M, Murakumo Y, Sokabe M, Seki T, Kaibuchi K, Takahashi M. Roles of disrupted-in-schizophrenia 1-interacting protein girdin in postnatal development of the dentate gyrus. Neuron. 2009;63:774-87. Abstract

Hayashi-Takagi A, Takaki M, Graziane N, Seshadri S, Murdoch H, Dunlop AJ, Makino Y, Seshadri AJ, Ishizuka K, Srivastava DP, Xie Z, Baraban JM, Houslay MD, Tomoda T, Brandon NJ, Kamiya A, Yan Z, Penzes P, Sawa A. Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) regulates spines of the glutamate synapse via Rac1. Nat Neurosci. 2010;13:327-32. Abstract

Hennah W, Porteous D. The DISC1 pathway modulates expression of neurodevelopmental, synaptogenic and sensory perception genes. PLoS One. 2009;4:e4906. Abstract

Kim JY, Duan X, Liu CY, Jang MH, Guo JU, Pow-anpongkul N, Kang E, Song H, Ming GL. DISC1 regulates new neuron development in the adult brain via modulation of AKT-mTOR signaling through KIAA1212. Neuron. 2009;63:761-73. Abstract

Mao Y, Ge X, Frank CL, Madison JM, Koehler AN, Doud MK, Tassa C, Berry EM, Soda T, Singh KK, Biechele T, Petryshen TL, Moon RT, Haggarty SJ, Tsai LH. Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 regulates neuronal progenitor proliferation via modulation of GSK3beta/beta-catenin signaling. Cell. 2009;136:1017-31. Abstract

Millar JK, Wilson-Annan JC, Anderson S, Christie S, Taylor MS, Semple CA, Devon RS, St. Clair DM, Muir WJ, Blackwood DH, Porteous DJ. Disruption of two novel genes by a translocation co-segregating with schizophrenia. Hum Mol Genet. 2000;9:1415-23. Abstract

Porteous D. Genetic causality in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: out with the old and in with the new. Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2008;18:229-34. Abstract

Porteous D, Millar K. How DISC1 regulates postnatal brain development: girdin gets in on the AKT. Neuron. 2009;63:711-3. Abstract

Seshadri S, Kamiya A, Yokota Y, Prikulis I, Kano S, Hayashi-Takagi A, Stanco A, Eom TY, Rao S, Ishizuka K, Wong P, Korth C, Anton ES, Sawa A. Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia-1 expression is regulated by beta-site amyloid precursor protein cleaving enzyme-1-neuregulin cascade. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010;107:5622-7. Abstract

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Related News: Dynamic Duo: DISC1 and Dixdc1 Team Up to Regulate Brain Development

Comment by:  Fengquan Zhou
Submitted 3 August 2010
Posted 3 August 2010
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Last year, an interesting paper (Mao et al., 2009) demonstrated that DISC1 regulates neurogenesis via directly interacting with and inhibiting GSK3, which subsequently activates the canonical Wnt pathway via stabilization of β-cantenin. Now a paper from the same group has identified a DISC1 binding protein named Dixdc1, which functions together with DISC1 to regulate neurogenesis and neuronal migration.

Specifically, the paper demonstrates that knocking down either DISC1 or Dixdc1 impairs neural progenitor proliferation and the activation of the canonical Wnt pathway, and double knocking down both proteins has an additive effect. In addition, the effects of knockdown of either gene alone can be fully rescued by overexpressing the other gene. These results suggest that DISC1 and Dixdc1 play redundant roles in regulation of neural progenitor cell proliferation via the GSK3-β-catenin pathway. However, disruption of the interaction between the two proteins also decreases the progenitor proliferation and the activation of the GSK3-β-catenin pathway, suggesting that they coordinate with each other. One potential explanation is that either DISC1 or Dixdc1 can function to inhibit GSK3 and activate the canonical Wnt pathway alone but at less efficiency. The formation of the protein complex may help better recruit GSK3 and thus increase the efficiency of GSK3 inhibition. The rescue results are probably due to overexpression of the proteins, which also increases the access to GSK3.

Very interestingly, the paper shows that knocking down either Dixdc1 or DISC1 also impairs neuronal migration. Unlike the effects in neurogenesis, those on neuronal migration cannot be rescued by overexpression of the other gene. In addition, activation of the canonical Wnt pathway via overexpression of a stabilized β-catenin cannot rescue the defect in neuronal migration. Thus, the authors suggest that DISC1 and Dixdc1 coordinate to regulate neuronal migration independent of the GSK3-β-catenin pathway, possibly via Ndel1, a protein known to regulate neuronal migration. As β-catenin is only one of the many substrates of GSK3 and many known substrates of GSK3 are cytoskeletal proteins (Zhou and Snider, 2005), it is possible that DISC1 and Dixdc1 coordinate to regulate neuronal migration via GSK3 signaling, which has recently been shown to regulate neuronal migration (Asada and Sanada, 2010). A unique feature of GSK3 signaling is the importance of its spatial regulation, which may explain the lack of rescuing effect with overexpression of one gene.

GSK3 signaling has recently been shown to play important roles in many neurodevelopmental processes, including neurogenesis, neuronal polarization, and axon outgrowth (Hur and Zhou, 2010). However, how GSK3 activity is regulated in the developing brain is not clear. This study not only identifies a potential regulator of GSK3, but also provides additional evidence that GSK3 signaling may be involved in neuronal migration.


Asada, N., and Sanada, K. (2010). LKB1-mediated spatial control of GSK3beta and adenomatous polyposis coli contributes to centrosomal forward movement and neuronal migration in the developing neocortex. J Neurosci 30, 8852-8865. Abstract

Hur, E.M., and Zhou, F.Q. (2010). GSK3 signalling in neural development. Nat Rev Neurosci 11, 539-551. Abstract

Mao, Y., Ge, X., Frank, C.L., Madison, J.M., Koehler, A.N., Doud, M.K., Tassa, C., Berry, E.M., Soda, T., Singh, K.K., et al. (2009). Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 regulates neuronal progenitor proliferation via modulation of GSK3beta/beta-catenin signaling. Cell 136, 1017-1031. Abstract

Zhou, F.Q., and Snider, W.D. (2005). Cell biology. GSK-3beta and microtubule assembly in axons. Science 308, 211-214. Abstract

View all comments by Fengquan Zhou