BACKGROUND: Recent genetic studies found the A allele of the variant rs1006737 in the alpha 1C subunit of the L-type voltage-gated calcium channel (CACNA1C) gene to be over-represented in patients with psychosis, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. In these disorders, attention deficits are among the main cognitive symptoms and have been related to altered neural activity in cerebral attention networks. The particular effect of CACNA1C on neural function, such as attention networks, remains to be elucidated.
METHOD: The current event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the effect of the CACNA1C gene on brain activity in 80 subjects while performing a scanner-adapted version of the Attention Network Test (ANT). Three domains of attention were probed simultaneously: alerting, orienting and executive control of attention.
RESULTS: Risk allele carriers showed impaired performance in alerting and orienting in addition to reduced neural activity in the right inferior parietal lobule [Brodmann area (BA) 40] during orienting and in the medial frontal gyrus (BA 8) during executive control of attention. These areas belong to networks that have been related to impaired orienting and executive control mechanisms in neuropsychiatric disorders.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that CACNA1C plays a role in the development of specific attention deficits in psychiatric disorders by modulation of neural attention networks.