Epigenetic Age Acceleration Was Delayed in Schizophrenia

Schizophr Bull. 2021 Apr 29;47(3):803-811. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbaa164.


Schizophrenia is a serious neuropsychiatric disorder with abnormal age-related neurodevelopmental (or neurodegenerative) trajectories. Although an accelerated aging hypothesis of schizophrenia has been proposed, the quantitative study of the disruption of the physiological trajectory caused by schizophrenia is inconclusive. In this study, we employed 3 "epigenetic clock" methods to quantify the epigenetic age of a large sample size of whole blood (1069 samples from patients with schizophrenia vs 1264 samples from unaffected controls) and brain tissues (500 samples from patients with schizophrenia vs 711 samples from unaffected controls). We observed significant positive correlations between epigenetic age and chronological age in both blood and brain tissues from unaffected controls and patients with schizophrenia, as estimated by 3 methods. Furthermore, we observed that epigenetic age acceleration was significantly delayed in schizophrenia from the whole blood samples (aged 20-90 years) and brain frontal cortex tissues (aged 20-39 years). Intriguingly, the genes regulated by the epigenetic clock also contained schizophrenia-associated genes, displaying differential expression and methylation in patients with schizophrenia and involving in the regulation of cell activation and development. These findings were further supported by the dysregulated leukocyte composition in patients with schizophrenia. Our study presents quantitative evidence for a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia from the perspective of a skewed "epigenetic clock." Moreover, landmark changes in an easily accessible biological sample, blood, reveal the value of these epigenetic clock genes as peripheral biomarkers for schizophrenia.

Keywords: epigenetic age acceleration; epigenetic clocks; immune cell; methylation; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging, Premature / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Schizophrenia / genetics*
  • Young Adult