Alcohol use disorder causes global changes in splicing in the human brain

Derek Van Booven, Li Mengying Li, J. Sunil Rao, Ilya O. Blokhin, R. Dayne Mayfield, Estelle Barbier, Markus Heilig, Claes Wahlestedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a widespread disease leading to the deterioration of cognitive and other functions. Mechanisms by which alcohol affects the brain are not fully elucidated. Splicing constitutes a nuclear process of RNA maturation, which results in the formation of the transcriptome. We tested the hypothesis as to whether AUD impairs splicing in the superior frontal cortex (SFC), nucleus accumbens (NA), basolateral amygdala (BLA), and central nucleus of the amygdala (CNA). To evaluate splicing, bam files from STAR alignments were indexed with samtools for use by rMATS software. Computational analysis of affected pathways was performed using Gene Ontology Consortium, Gene Set Enrichment Analysis, and LncRNA Ontology databases. Surprisingly, AUD was associated with limited changes in the transcriptome: expression of 23 genes was altered in SFC, 14 in NA, 102 in BLA, and 57 in CNA. However, strikingly, mis-splicing in AUD was profound: 1421 mis-splicing events were detected in SFC, 394 in NA, 1317 in BLA, and 469 in CNA. To determine the mechanism of mis-splicing, we analyzed the elements of the spliceosome: small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) and splicing factors. While snRNAs were not affected by alcohol, expression of splicing factor heat shock protein family A (Hsp70) member 6 (HSPA6) was drastically increased in SFC, BLA, and CNA. Also, AUD was accompanied by aberrant expression of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) related to splicing. In summary, alcohol is associated with genome-wide changes in splicing in multiple human brain regions, likely due to dysregulation of splicing factor(s) and/or altered expression of splicing-related lncRNAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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