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J Neurogenet. 2014 Mar-Jun;28(1-2):41-52. doi: 10.3109/01677063.2014.892485. Epub 2014 Apr 22.

Toward the identification of peripheral epigenetic biomarkers of schizophrenia.

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Psychiatric Institute, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Illinois , Chicago, Chicago, Illinois , USA.


Schizophrenia (SZ) is a heritable, nonmendelian, neurodevelopmental disorder in which epigenetic dysregulation of the brain genome plays a fundamental role in mediating the clinical manifestations and course of the disease. The authors recently reported that two enzymes that belong to the dynamic DNA methylation/demethylation network-DNMT (DNA methyltransferase) and TET (ten-eleven translocase; 5-hydroxycytosine translocator)-are abnormally increased in corticolimbic structures of SZ postmortem brain, suggesting a causal relationship between clinical manifestations of SZ and changes in DNA methylation and in the expression of SZ candidate genes (e.g., brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], glucocorticoid receptor [GCR], glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 [GAD67], reelin). Because the clinical manifestations of SZ typically begin with a prodrome followed by a first episode in adolescence with subsequent deterioration, it is obvious that the natural history of this disease cannot be studied only in postmortem brain. Hence, the focus is currently shifting towards the feasibility of studying epigenetic molecular signatures of SZ in blood cells. Initial studies show a significant enrichment of epigenetic changes in lymphocytes in gene networks directly relevant to psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, the expression of DNA-methylating/demethylating enzymes and SZ candidate genes such as BDNF and GCR are altered in the same direction in both brain and blood lymphocytes. The coincidence of these changes in lymphocytes and brain supports the hypothesis that common environmental or genetic risk factors are operative in altering the epigenetic components involved in orchestrating transcription of specific genes in brain and peripheral tissues. The identification of DNA methylation signatures for SZ in peripheral blood cells of subjects with genetic and clinical high risk would clearly have potential for the diagnosis of SZ early in its course and would be invaluable for initiating early intervention and individualized treatment plans.


DNA methylation; brain-derived nerve growth factor; glucocorticoid receptor; lymphocytes

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