Proteomics is rapidly achieving recognition as a complimentary and perhaps superior approach to examine global changes in protein abundance in complex biological systems and the value of these techniques in neuropsychiatry is beginning to be acknowledged. Characterizing the brain’s regional proteomes provides a foundation for the detection of proteins that may be involved in disease-related processes. Firstly, optimal conditions were achieved for the application of two dimensional-gel electrophoresis (2D-GE)-based proteomics with postmortem human brain tissue. These optimized techniques were then applied to soluble fractions of adjacent grey and white matter of a single cytoarchitecturally defined area (Brodmann area 9; BA9) and of two adjacent regions of frontal white matter (BA9 and CC body) from healthy individuals. These normative proteomic comparisons highlighted the importance of correct tissue sampling, i.e. proper separation of regional white matter, as heterogeneity in the respective proteomes was demonstrated. Furthermore, they stressed the necessity for future molecular brain mapping studies.
The main focus of this thesis however, was to examine the proteomes of brain regions specifically vulnerable to alcohol-induced damage underlying cognitive dysfunction. Alcoholic patients commonly experience mild to severe cognitive decline. It is postulated that cognitive dysfunction is caused by an alcohol-induced region selective brain damage, particularly to the prefrontal cortex. The cerebellum is increasingly recognized for its role in various aspects of cognition and alcohol–induced damage to the cerebellar vermis could indirectly affect neurocognitive functions attributed to the frontal lobe. We used a 2D-GE-based proteomics approach to compare protein abundance profiles of BA9 grey and white matter and the cerebellar vermis from human alcoholics (neurologically uncomplicated and alcoholics complicated with liver cirrhosis) and healthy control brains. Among the protein level changes observed are disturbances in the levels of a number of thiamine-dependent enzymes. A derangement in energy metabolism perhaps related to thiamine deficiency seems to be important in all regions analysed, even where there are no clinical or pathological findings of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Evidence of oxidative changes was also seen in all regions and effects of liver dysfunction in the vermis found. However, overall, these results highlight the complexity of this disease process in that a number of different proteins from different cellular pathways appear to be affected. By identifying changes in protein abundance levels in the prefrontal grey and white matter and the cerebellar vermis, hypotheses may draw upon more mechanistic explanations as to how chronic ethanol consumption causes the structural and functional alterations associated with alcohol-related brain damage. Furthermore, by comparing these results, we may be able to isolate disturbances in molecular pathways specific to the brain damage caused by alcohol, severe liver dysfunction and thiamine deficiency.