BACKGROUND: Suicide, psychotic features and gender influence the epidemiology and clinical prognosis of bipolar disorder (BD). Differences in glial function between the genders might contribute to these clinical variables. Here we studied expression of glial genes in human post-mortem prefrontal cortex of BD and control subjects in relation to suicide, psychotic features and sex.
METHODS: Real time PCR was used to detect transcriptional alterations of 16 glia-related genes in two brain areas, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), from 30 patients with BD subdivided by suicide and psychotic features, and from 34 well-matched control cases.
RESULTS: We found no evidence of immune activation in BD. Instead, we found three microglial genes to be downregulated in the DLPFC of non-suicidal individuals with BD, i.e. CD68, triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2) and purinergic receptor 12 (P2RY12). A remarkable sex difference was observed in the DLPFC of patients with BD: 14 glia-related genes were expressed at significantly higher levels in males, including all three glial cell types. A subset analysis showed that the sex differences were closely associated with the presence of psychotic features.
CONCLUSIONS: No evidence of immune activation was found in these two brain regions in BD. The sex-specific differences in glial gene expression in BD, found particularly in patients with psychotic features, may be associated with the potential co-existence of mania and psychotic features and could potentially contribute to the gender-biased characteristics in BD.