Impaired glutathione synthesis in schizophrenia: convergent genetic and functional evidence

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Oct 16;104(42):16621-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0706778104. Epub 2007 Oct 5.


Schizophrenia is a complex multifactorial brain disorder with a genetic component. Convergent evidence has implicated oxidative stress and glutathione (GSH) deficits in the pathogenesis of this disease. The aim of the present study was to test whether schizophrenia is associated with a deficit of GSH synthesis. Cultured skin fibroblasts from schizophrenia patients and control subjects were challenged with oxidative stress, and parameters of the rate-limiting enzyme for the GSH synthesis, the glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), were measured. Stressed cells of patients had a 26% (P = 0.002) decreased GCL activity as compared with controls. This reduction correlated with a 29% (P < 0.001) decreased protein expression of the catalytic GCL subunit (GCLC). Genetic analysis of a trinucleotide repeat (TNR) polymorphism in the GCLC gene showed a significant association with schizophrenia in two independent case-control studies. The most common TNR genotype 7/7 was more frequent in controls [odds ratio (OR) = 0.6, P = 0.003], whereas the rarest TNR genotype 8/8 was three times more frequent in patients (OR = 3.0, P = 0.007). Moreover, subjects with disease-associated genotypes had lower GCLC protein expression (P = 0.017), GCL activity (P = 0.037), and GSH contents (P = 0.004) than subjects with genotypes that were more frequent in controls. Taken together, the study provides genetic and functional evidence that an impaired capacity to synthesize GSH under conditions of oxidative stress is a vulnerability factor for schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / enzymology
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / analysis
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / deficiency*
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / genetics
  • Glutathione / deficiency*
  • Glutathione / genetics
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Protein Subunits / analysis
  • Protein Subunits / deficiency
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / enzymology
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / enzymology
  • Trinucleotide Repeats / genetics


  • Protein Subunits
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • Glutathione