Circulating Proteins Influencing Psychiatric Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Study

Biol Psychiatry. 2023 Jan 1;93(1):82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.08.015. Epub 2022 Aug 22.


Background: There is a pressing need for novel drug targets for psychiatric disorders. Circulating proteins are potential candidates because they are relatively easy to measure and modulate and play important roles in signaling.

Methods: We performed two-sample Mendelian randomization analyses to estimate the associations between circulating protein abundances and risk of 10 psychiatric disorders. Genetic variants associated with 1611 circulating protein abundances identified in 6 large-scale proteomic studies were used as genetic instruments. Effects of the circulating proteins on psychiatric disorders were estimated by Wald ratio or inverse variance-weighted ratio tests. Horizontal pleiotropy, colocalization, and protein-altering effects were examined to validate the assumptions of Mendelian randomization.

Results: Nine circulating protein-to-disease associations withstood multiple sensitivity analyses. Among them, 2 circulating proteins had associations replicated in 3 proteomic studies. A 1 standard deviation increase in the genetically predicted circulating TIMP4 level was associated with a reduced risk of anorexia nervosa (minimum odds ratio [OR] = 0.83; 95% CI, 0.76-0.91) and bipolar disorder (minimum OR = 0.88; 95% CI, 0.82-0.94). A 1 standard deviation increase in the genetically predicted circulating ESAM level was associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia (maximum OR = 1.32; 95% CI, 1.22-1.43). In addition, 58 suggestive protein-to-disease associations warrant validation with observational or experimental evidence. For instance, a 1 standard deviation increase in the ERLEC1-201-to-ERLEC1-202 splice variant ratio was associated with a reduced risk of schizophrenia (OR = 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.97).

Conclusions: Prioritized circulating proteins appear to influence the risk of psychiatric disease and may be explored as intervention targets.

Keywords: Blood-brain barrier; Circulating proteins; Genome-wide association studies; Mendelian randomization; Psychiatric diseases; Quantitative trait loci.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Mental Disorders* / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Proteomics
  • Schizophrenia* / genetics