Human cognitive ability is influenced by genetic variation in components of postsynaptic signalling complexes assembled by NMDA receptors and MAGUK proteins
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Differences in general cognitive ability (intelligence) account for approximately half of the variation in any large battery of cognitive tests and are predictive of important life events including health. Genome-wide analyses of common single-nucleotide polymorphisms indicate that they jointly tag between a quarter and a half of the variance in intelligence. However, no single polymorphism has been reliably associated with variation in intelligence. It remains possible that these many small effects might be aggregated in networks of functionally linked genes. Here, we tested a network of 1461 genes in the postsynaptic density and associated complexes for an enriched association with intelligence. These were ascertained in 3511 individuals (the Cognitive Ageing Genetics in England and Scotland (CAGES) consortium) phenotyped for general cognitive ability, fluid cognitive ability, crystallised cognitive ability, memory and speed of processing. By analysing the results of a genome wide association study (GWAS) using Gene Set Enrichment Analysis, a significant enrichment was found for fluid cognitive ability for the proteins found in the complexes of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor complex; P=0.002. Replication was sought in two additional cohorts (N=670 and 2062). A meta-analytic P-value of 0.003 was found when these were combined with the CAGES consortium. The results suggest that genetic variation in the macromolecular machines formed by membrane-associated guanylate kinase (MAGUK) scaffold proteins and their interaction partners contributes to variation in intelligence.