Segregating polymorphism in the NMDA receptor gene GRIN2A, schizotypy, and mental rotation among healthy individuals

Publication date: August 2018
Source:Neuropsychologia, Volume 117
Author(s): Siddharth Jha, Silven Read, Peter Hurd, Bernard Crespi
Common alleles associated with psychiatric disorders are often regarded as deleterious genes that influence vulnerability to disease, but they may also be considered as mediators of variation in adaptively structured cognitive phenotypes among healthy individuals. The schizophrenia-associated gene GRIN2A (glutamate ionotropic receptor NMDA type subunit 2a) codes for a protein subunit of the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor that underlies central aspects of human cognition. Pharmacological NMDA blockage recapitulates the major features of schizophrenia in human subjects, and represents a key model for the neurological basis of this disorder. We genotyped two functional GRIN2A polymorphisms in a large population of healthy individuals who were scored for schizotypy and mental imagery/manipulation (the mental rotation test). Rare-allele homozygosity of the promoter microsatellite rs3219790 was associated with high total schizotypy (after adjustment for multiple comparisons) and with enhanced mental rotation ability (nominally, but not after adjustment for multiple comparisons), among males. These findings provide preliminary evidence regarding a genetic basis to previous reports of enhanced mental imagery in schizophrenia and schizotypy. The results also suggest that some schizophrenia-related alleles may be subject to cognitive tradeoffs involving both positive and negative effects on psychological phenotypes, which may help to explain the maintenance of psychiatric-disorder risk alleles in human populations.