A new sex-specific underlying mechanism for female schizophrenia: accelerated skewed X chromosome inactivation

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Background: X chromosome inactivation (XCI) is the mechanism by which the X-linked gene dosage is adjusted between the sexes. Evidence shows that many sex-specific diseases have their basis in X chromosome biology. While female schizophrenia patients often have a delayed age of disease onset and clinical phenotypes that are different from those of males, it is unknown whether the sex differences in schizophrenia are associated with X-linked gene dosage and the choice of X chromosome silencing in female cells. Previous studies demonstrated that sex chromosome aneuploidies may be related to the pathogeneses of some psychiatric diseases. Here, we examined the changes in skewed XCI in patients with schizophrenia. Methods: A total of 109 female schizophrenia (SCZ) patients and 80 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (CNTLs) were included in this study. We evaluated clinical features including disease onset age, disease duration, clinical symptoms by the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) and antipsychotic treatment dosages. The XCI skewing patterns were analyzed by the methylation profile of the HUMARA gene found in DNA isolated from SCZ patient and CNTL leukocytes in the three age groups. Results: First, we found that the frequency of skewed XCI in SCZ patients was 4 times more than that in the age- and sex-matched CNTLs (p < 0.01). Second, we found an earlier onset of severe XCI skewing in the SCZ patients than in CNTLs. Third, we demonstrated a close relationship between the severity of skewed XCI and schizophrenic symptoms (PANSS score ≥ 90) as well as the age of disease onset. Fourth, we demonstrated that the skewed XCI in SCZ patients was not transmitted from the patients' mothers. Limitations: The XCI skewing pattern might differ depending on tissues or organs. Although this is the first study to explore skewed XCI in SCZ, in the future, samples from different tissues or cells in SCZ patients might be important for understanding the impact of skewed XCI in this disease. Conclusion: Our study, for the first time, investigated skewed XCI in female SCZ patients and presented a potential mechanism for the sex differences in SCZ. Our data also suggested that XCI might be a potential target for the development of female-specific interventions for SCZ.




Zhang, X., Li, Y., Ma, L., Zhang, G., Liu, M., Wang, C., … Li, R. (2020). A new sex-specific underlying mechanism for female schizophrenia: accelerated skewed X chromosome inactivation. Biology of Sex Differences, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13293-020-00315-6

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