By now, we’re all used to hearing about epigenetics in cancer or stem cell research, but its role in mental illness is still a pretty new concept. Understanding how exactly DNA methylation factors into schizophrenia may be a ways off, but new research promises to soon be able diagnose the condition through just a blood test.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden looked at global and gene specific DNA methylation levels in the leukocytes from patient blood samples, and were able to tell the difference between schizophrenia sufferers control subjects. The scientists were quite pleased with all the info that could be mined from the leukocytes including:
- Schizophrenic patients showed global DNA hypomethylation.
- Hypomethylation was most prominent in early onset patients, and was somewhat rescued by treatment with haloperidol.
- Age, gender, smoking, drinking, other treatments or hospital admissions and even family history did not correlate with global DNA methylation.
- A specific locus tested in the schizophrenia-related gene S-COMT was found to be hypermethylated in schizophrenics.
The Swedish group’s results add more evidence for the epigenetic regulation of mental illness, including schizophrenia, and provide some new data about how some current therapies function. Since they’re looking at tissues outside the brain, it’s too early to tell if the methylation patterns they’ve noticed are a cause or effect of the disease, but it may one day be used as a biomarker to help diagnose schizophrenia. After all, a quick blood test is sure a lot easier to get than a brain tissue sample.
Don’t miss out on all the details at FASEB Journal, March 2012.