Evaluating Gene Expression and Methylation Profiles of TCF4, MBP, and EGR1 in Peripheral Blood of Drug-Free Patients with Schizophrenia: Correlations with Psychopathology, Intelligence, and Cognitive Impairment

J Mol Neurosci. 2023 Sep 5. doi: 10.1007/s12031-023-02150-x. Online ahead of print.


Discovery and validation of new, reliable diagnostic and predictive biomarkers for schizophrenia (SCZ) are an ongoing effort. Here, we assessed the mRNA expression and DNA methylation of the TCF4, MBP, and EGR1 genes in the blood of patients with SCZ and evaluated their relationships to psychopathology and cognitive impairments. Quantitative real-time PCR and quantitative methylation-specific PCR methods were used to assess the expression level and promoter DNA methylation status of these genes in 70 drug-free SCZ patients and 72 healthy controls. The correlation of molecular changes with psychopathology and cognitive performance of participants was evaluated. We observed downregulation of TCF4 and upregulation of MBP mRNA levels in SCZ cases, relative to controls in our study. DNA methylation status at the promoter region of TCF4 demonstrated an altered pattern in SCZ as well. Additionally, TCF4 mRNA levels were inversely correlated with PANSS and Stroop total errors and positively correlated with WAIS total score and working memory, consistent with previous studies by our group. In contrast, MBP mRNA level was significantly positively correlated with PANSS and Stroop total errors and inversely correlated with WAIS total score and working memory. These epigenetic and expression signatures can help to assemble a peripheral biomarker-based diagnostic panel for SCZ.

Keywords: Biomarkers; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Gene expression; Schizophrenia.