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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2008 Jul;7(7):1204-13. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M700459-MCP200. Epub 2008 Mar 18.

Increased alpha-defensins as a blood marker for schizophrenia susceptibility.

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Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB21QT, United Kingdom.


Schizophrenia is a severe psychotic illness affecting 1% of the general population. There are no consistent pathological features, and the disorder is defined by a complex symptomatology, which overlaps with other psychiatric illnesses. Diagnosis is based on a clinical interview, relying on the patient meeting criteria according to diagnosis manuals, including Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed. and International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. Because of the ambiguous symptoms, the diagnostic process can take many months and often years. Rapid and effective treatment has been shown to impact positively on disease progression and outcome, and it is therefore important to identify disease-associated biomarkers allowing early diagnosis. Reliable biomarkers can be used for the development of diagnostic tests and may also help us understand the underlying pathology of this disorder. In the present study, proteins from anti-CD3 stimulated and unstimulated peripheral blood T cell lysates from 15 minimally medicated and unmedicated patients and 15 age-, sex-, race-, and smoking-matched controls were profiled on cation exchange (CM10) chips using SELDI-TOF. Partial least squares discriminate analysis was used to separate patient and control groups according to the expression of 108 detected peaks, and two peaks of 3,374 and 3,450 Da, corresponding to alpha-defensins based on masses and cationic properties, were found to contribute significantly to the separation of patient and control groups. Reduction of T cell lysates with DTT resulted in a 6-Da shift in the mass of these peaks consistent with the presence of three cysteine bonds in the structure, confirming them as alpha-defensins. Quantification of alpha-defensins in T cell lysates from six patients and 18 healthy controls was carried out by ELISA, which also showed that alpha-defensin levels were significantly increased in patient lysates when compared with matched controls (p = 0.0197). Plasma from 21 monozygotic twins discordant for schizophrenia and eight healthy unaffected twin pairs was also analyzed for the expression of alpha-defensins by ELISA. Notably both affected and unaffected twins were found to have significantly elevated alpha-defensin levels compared with healthy control twin pairs (p = 0.0014 and p = 0.0115, respectively). Increased expression of alpha-defensins in unaffected as well as affected discordant monozygotic twins is of particular interest as monozygotic twins share genes and usually environmental upbringing. The unaffected twin therefore represents the biological and environmental risk of developing schizophrenia in the absence of overt symptomatology and therapeutic medication. These findings suggest that alpha-defensins could be an important early indicator of the risk of schizophrenia.

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