Epigenetics of schizophrenia: A review

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Background. - Schizophrenia is a frequent and disabling disease associated with heterogeneous psychiatric phenotypes. It emerges during childhood, adolescence or young adulthood and has dramatic consequences for the affected individuals, causing considerable familial and social burden, as well as increasing health expenses. Although some progress has been made in the understanding of their physiopathology, many questions remain unsolved, and the disease is still poorly understood. The prevailing hypothesis regarding psychotic disorders proposes that a combination of genetic and/or environmental factors, during critical periods of brain development increases the risk for these illnesses. Epigenetic regulations, such as DNA methylation, can mediate gene x environment interactions at the level of the genome and may provide a potential substrate to explain the variability in symptom severity and family heritability. Initially, epigenetics was used to design mitotic and meiotic changes in gene transcription that could not be attributed to genetic mutations. It referred later to changes in the epigenome not transmitted through the germline. Thus, epigenetics refers to a wide range of molecular mechanisms including DNA methylation of cytosine residues in CpG dinucleotides and post-translational histone modifications. These mechanisms alter the way the transcriptional factors bind the DNA, modulating its expression. Prenatal and postnatal environmental factors may affect these epigenetics factors, having responsability in long-term DNA transcription, and influencing the development of psychiatric disorders. Object. - The object of this review is to present the state of knowledge in epigenetics of schizophrenia, outlining the most recent findings in the matter. Methods. - We did so using Pubmed, researching words such as 'epigenetics', 'epigenetic', 'schizophrenia', 'psychosis', 'psychiatric'. This review summarizes evidences mostly for two epigenetic mechanisms: DNA methylation and post-translational histone modifications. Results. - First, in terms of epidemiology and transmission, the theoretical model of epigenetics applies to schizophrenia. Then, most environmental factors that have proved a link with this disease, may generate epigenetic mechanisms. Next, mutations have been found in regions implied in epigenetic mechanism among populations with schizophrenia. Some epigenetic alterations in DNA regions have been previously linked with neurodevelopmental abnormalities. In psychosis, some authors have found methylation differences in COMT gene, in reelin gene and in some genes implicated in dopaminergic, serotoninergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic pathways. Histone modifications have been described, in particular the H3L4 histone methylation. Finally, we tried to underline the difficulties in epigenetic research, notably in psychiatry, and the limits in this matter. Conclusion. - The epigenetic field may explain a lot of questions around the physiopathology of the complex psychiatric disease that is schizophrenia. It may be a substratum to the prevailing hypothesis of gene x environment interaction. The research in the matter is definitely expanding. It justifies easily the need to improve the effort in the domain to overpass some limits inherent to the matter.




Rivollier, F., Lotersztajn, L., Chaumette, B., Krebs, M. O., & Kebir, O. (2014). Epigenetics of schizophrenia: A review. Encephale, 40(5), 380–386. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.encep.2014.06.005

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