Gene expression over the course of schizophrenia: from clinical high-risk for psychosis to chronic stages

NPJ Schizophr. 2019 Mar 28;5(1):5. doi: 10.1038/s41537-019-0073-0.


The study of patients with schizophrenia (SZ) at different clinical stages may help clarify what effects could be due to the disease itself, to the pharmacological treatment, or to the disease progression. We compared expression levels of targeted genes in blood from individuals in different stages of SZ: clinical high risk for psychosis (CHR), first episode of psychosis (FEP), and chronic SZ (CSZ). Then, we further verified whether single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) could be related to gene expression differences. We investigated 12 genes in 394 individuals (27 individuals with CHR, 70 antipsychotic-naive individuals with FEP, 157 CSZ patients, and 140 healthy controls (HCs)). For a subsample, genotype data were also available, and we extracted SNPs that were previously associated with the expression of selected genes in whole blood or brain tissue. We generated a mediation model in which a putative cause (SNP) is related to a presumed effect (disorder) via an intermediate variable (gene expression). MBP and NDEL1 were upregulated in FEP compared to all other groups; DGCR8 was downregulated in FEP compared to HC and CHR; DGCR2 was downregulated in CSZ compared to FEP and HCs; DISC1 was upregulated in schizophrenia compared to controls or FEP, possibly induced by the rs3738398 and rs10864693 genotypes, which were associated with DISC1 expression; and UFD1 was upregulated in CSZ and CHR compared to FEP and HC. Our results indicated changes in gene expression profiles throughout the different clinical stages of SZ, reinforcing the need for staging approaches to better capture SZ heterogeneity.