Genome-wide association study in two populations to determine genetic variants associated with Toxoplasma gondii infection and relationship to schizophrenia risk

Alex W. Wang, Dimitrios Avramopoulos, Adriana Lori, Jennifer Mulle, Karen Conneely, Abigail Powers, Erica Duncan, Lynn Almli, Nicholas Massa, John McGrath, Ann C. Schwartz, Fernando S Goes, Lei Weng, Ruihua Wang, Robert H Yolken, Ingo Ruczinski, Charles F. Gillespie, Tanja Jovanovic, Kerry Ressler, Ann E PulverBrad D. Pearce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


T. gondii (TOXO) infects over one billion people worldwide, yet the literature lacks a Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS) focused on genetic variants controlling the persistence of TOXO infection. To identify putative T. gondii susceptibility genes, we performed a GWAS using IgG seropositivity as the outcome variable in a discovery sample (n = 790) from an Ashkenazi dataset, and a second sample of predominately African Americans (The Grady Trauma Project, n = 285). We also performed a meta-analyses of the 2 cohorts. None of the SNPs in these analyses was statistically significant after Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. In the Ashkenazi population, the gene region of CHIA (chitinase) showed the most nominally significant association with TOXO. Prior studies have shown that the production of chitinase by macrophages in the brain responding to TOXO infection is crucial for controlling the burden of T. gondii cysts. We found a surprising number of genes involved in neurodevelopment and psychiatric disorders among our top hits even though our outcome variable was TOXO infection. In the meta-analysis combining the Ashkenazi and Grady Trauma Project samples, there was enrichment for genes implicated in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (p <.05). Upon limiting our sample to those without mental illness, two schizophrenia related genes (CNTNAP2, GABAR2) still had significant TOXO–associated variants at the p <.05 level, but did not pass the genome wide significance threshold after correction for multiple comparisons. Using Ingenuity Systems molecular network analysis, we identified molecular nodes suggesting that while different genetic variants associated with TOXO in the two population samples, the molecular pathways for TOXO susceptibility nevertheless converged on common pathways. Molecular nodes in these common pathways included NOTCH1, CD44, and RXRA. Prior studies show that CD44 participates in TOXO-induced immunopathology and that RXRA is instrumental in regulating T-helper immune responses. These data provide new insights into the pathophysiology of this common neurotropic parasite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-147
Number of pages15
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
StatePublished - Jun 8 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry

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