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Cytokine alterations in first-episode schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: relationships to brain structure and symptoms


BACKGROUND:Over the past 30 years, evidence has been accumulating for an immunological component to schizophrenia etiology, including genetic links to the major histocompatibility complex, microglia activation, and dysregulated cytokine profiles. However, the degree of similarity in cytokine profiles for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as the relationship between cytokine levels and brain structure, is less well understood. METHODS:To address this, we recruited 69 first-episode schizophrenia-spectrum patients, 16 first-episode bipolar patients with psychotic features, and 53 healthy controls, from the UC Davis EDAPT clinic. Blood plasma was collected and analyzed for all participants with a subset of participants that also underwent structural MRI on a 1.5T GE scanner. RESULTS:Plasma levels of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-2, IL-6, and interferon (IFN)-γ were elevated in schizophrenia patients compared to those in controls. Patients with bipolar disorder had elevated plasma IL-10 levels compared to controls, and the two patient groups did not differ significantly on any immunological measure. Percent whole-brain gray matter was inversely correlated with IFN-γ and IL-12 levels in patients with schizophrenia, with a trend relationship between IFN-γ and IL-12 and prefrontal cortical thickness. Furthermore, psychotic symptoms were positively related to IL-1β levels in individuals with schizophrenia. CONCLUSIONS:These data suggest a partially overlapping pattern of elevated blood cytokine levels in patients with first-episode schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Furthermore, our findings suggest that elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines may be particularly involved in schizophrenia etiology, given evidence of cytokine-related decreases in total gray matter.

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