The Role of Cytokines in the Pathogenesis of Schizophrenia

J Clin Med. 2021 Aug 27;10(17):3849. doi: 10.3390/jcm10173849.


Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness of unknown etiology. A growing and compelling body of evidence implicates immunologic dysfunction as the key element in its pathomechanism. Cytokines, whose altered levels have been increasingly reported in various patient populations, are the major mediators involved in the coordination of the immune system. The available literature reports both elevated levels of proinflammatory as well as reduced levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines, and their effects on clinical status and neuroimaging changes. There is evidence of at least a partial genetic basis for the association between cytokine alterations and schizophrenia. Two other factors implicated in its development include early childhood trauma and disturbances in the gut microbiome. Moreover, its various subtypes, characterized by individual symptom severity and course, such as deficit schizophrenia, seem to differ in terms of changes in peripheral cytokine levels. While the use of a systematic review methodology could be difficult due to the breadth and diversity of the issues covered in this review, the applied narrative approach allows for a more holistic presentation. The aim of this narrative review was to present up-to-date evidence on cytokine dysregulation in schizophrenia, its effect on the psychopathological presentation, and links with antipsychotic medication. We also attempted to summarize its postulated underpinnings, including early childhood trauma and gut microbiome disturbances, and propose trait and state markers of schizophrenia.

Keywords: antipsychotics; cytokines; neuroinflammation; psychosis; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Review