A growing body of evidence suggests that immune alterations, especially those related to inflammation, are associated with increased risk of schizophrenia and schizophrenia-related brain alterations. Much of this work has focused on the prenatal period, because infections during pregnancy have been repeatedly (albeit inconsistently) linked to risk of schizophrenia. Given that most infections do not cross the placenta, cytokines associated with inflammation (proinflammatory cytokines) have been targeted as potential mediators of the damaging effects of infection on the fetal brain in prenatal studies. Moreover, additional evidence from both human and animal studies suggests links between increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines, immune-related genes, and schizophrenia as well as brain alterations associated with the disorder. Additional support for the role of altered immune factors in the etiology of schizophrenia comes from neuroimaging studies, which have linked proinflammatory cytokine gene polymorphisms with some of the structural and functional abnormalities repeatedly found in schizophrenia. These findings are reviewed and discussed with a life course perspective, examining the contribution of inflammation from the fetal period to disorder presentation. Unexplored areas and future directions, such as the interplay between inflammation, genes, and individual-level environmental factors (e.g., stress, sleep, and nutrition), are also discussed.
Copyright © 2013 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.