Potential associations between immune signaling genes, deactivated microglia, and oligodendrocytes and cortical gray matter loss in patients with long-term remitted Cushing's disease

S.E.E.C. Bauduin, I.L.B. den Rooijen, M. Meijer, S.J.A. van der Werff, A. Keo, O. Dzyubachyk, A.M. Pereira, E.J. Giltay, N.J.A. van der Wee, O.C. Meijer, A. Mahfouz

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Abstract

Introduction: Cushing's disease (CD) is a rare and severe endocrine disease characterized by hypercortisolemia. Previous studies have found structural brain alterations in remitted CD patients compared to healthy controls, specifically in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). However, potential mechanisms through which these persistent alterations may have occurred are currently unknown. Methods: Structural 3T MRI's from 25 remitted CD patients were linked with gene expression data from neurotypical donors, derived from the Allen Human Brain Atlas. Differences in gene expression between the ACC and an unaffected control cortical region were examined, followed by a Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analysis. A cell type enrichment analysis was conducted on the differentially expressed genes, and a disease association enrichment analysis was conducted to determine possible associations between differentially expressed genes and specific diseases. Subsequently, cortisol sensitivity of these genes in existing datasets was examined. Results: The gene expression analysis identified 300 differentially expressed genes in the ACC compared to the cortical control region. GO analyses found underexpressed genes to represent immune function. The cell type specificity analysis indicated that underexpressed genes were enriched for deactivated microglia and oligodendrocytes. Neither significant associations with diseases, nor evidence of cortisol sensitivity with the differentially expressed genes were found. Discussion: Underexpressed genes in the ACC, the area vulnerable to permanent changes in remitted CD patients, were often associated with immune functioning. The specific lack of deactivated microglia and oligodendrocytes implicates protective effects of these cell types against the long-term effects of cortisol overexposure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105334
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalPsychoneuroendocrinology
Volume132
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Cushing's disease
  • Gene expression
  • Structural MRI

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