Background: Cytokines play an important role in infection and inflammation and are crucial mediators of the cross-talk between the brain and the immune system. Schizophrenia would be associated with an imbalance in inflammatory cytokines, leading to a decrease in Th1 and an increase in Th2 cytokine secretion. However, data published so far have been inconsistent. The primary objective of the present meta-analysis was to verify whether the cytokine imbalance hypothesis of schizophrenia is substantiated by evidence.
Methods: Cross-sectional studies were included if they assessed in vivo plasma or serum cytokine concentrations and/or in vitro secretion of cytokines by peripheral blood leukocytes from schizophrenia patients and healthy volunteers.
Results: Data from 62 studies involving a total sample size of 2298 schizophrenia patients and 1858 healthy volunteers remained for analysis. Ten cytokines were assessed, including the prototypic Th1 and Th2 cytokines gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) and interleukin 4 (IL-4) as well as IL-2, soluble IL-2 receptor (sIL-2R), IL-1beta, IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1RA), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-6, soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R), and IL-10. The results show that an increase occurs in in vivo IL-1RA, sIL-2R, and IL-6 and a decrease occurs in in vitro IL-2 in schizophrenia. No significant effect sizes were obtained for the other cytokines.
Conclusions: These findings provide the first evidence of establishment of an inflammatory syndrome in schizophrenia, which refutes the current hypothesis of a Th2 slant. Caveats are presented to data interpretation, including the role of stress and the effect of weight gain that develops in schizophrenia.