Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Glutamatergic deficits and parvalbumin-containing inhibitory neurons in the prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia

BKY Bitanihirwe15, MP Lim1, JF Kelley1, T Kaneko4 and TUW Woo123*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Cellular Neuropathology, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

3 Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

4 Department of Morphological Brain Science, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

5 Laboratory of Behavioral Neurobiology, ETH Zurich, Schorenstrasse 16, Schwerzenbach 8603, Switzerland

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:71  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-71

Published: 16 November 2009



We have previously reported that the expression of the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) for the NR2A subunit of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) class of glutamate receptor was decreased in a subset of inhibitory interneurons in the cerebral cortex in schizophrenia. In this study, we sought to determine whether a deficit in the expression of NR2A mRNA was present in the subset of interneurons that contain the calcium buffer parvalbumin (PV) and whether this deficit was associated with a reduction in glutamatergic inputs in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in schizophrenia.


We examined the expression of NR2A mRNA, labeled with a 35S-tagged riboprobe, in neurons that expressed PV mRNA, visualized with a digoxigenin-labeled riboprobe via an immunoperoxidase reaction, in twenty schizophrenia and twenty matched normal control subjects. We also immunohistochemically labeled the glutamatergic axon terminals with an antibody against vGluT1.


The density of the PV neurons that expressed NR2A mRNA was significantly decreased by 48-50% in layers 3 and 4 in the subjects with schizophrenia, but the cellular expression of NR2A mRNA in the PV neurons that exhibited a detectable level of this transcript was unchanged. In addition, the density of vGluT1-immunoreactive boutons was significantly decreased by 79% in layer 3, but was unchanged in layer 5 of the PFC in schizophrenia.


These findings suggest that glutamatergic neurotransmission via NR2A-containing NMDA receptors on PV neurons in the PFC may be deficient in schizophrenia. This may disinhibit the postsynaptic excitatory circuits, contributing to neuronal injury, aberrant information flow and PFC functional deficits in schizophrenia.