[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Skip to Main Content

Science & Technology

January 18, 2010
Volume 88, Number 3
p. 26

A Systemic Look At Schizophrenia

Proteomic analysis of peripheral cells reveals aspects of psychiatric disorder

Celia Henry Arnaud

PROTEOMICS IN PINK: Bahn (right) and students Melanie Beer (left) and Agnes Ernst analyze proteomic data. Courtesy of Sabine Bahn
PROTEOMICS IN PINK Bahn (right) and students Melanie Beer (left) and Agnes Ernst analyze proteomic data.
  • Print this article
  • Email the editor

More Science Stories

October 24, 2011

Bryostatins Retain Promise

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | pp. 10-17)

New results in total synthesis reinvigorate a 40-year-old field of research.

For Cave's Art, An Uncertain Future

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | pp. 38-40)

Disagreement on conservation course of action complicates a potential reopening.

Cancer Stem Cells

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | pp. 41-43)

Researchers zero in on the pathways that allow cancer to bounce back after treatment.

What's That Stuff? Blue Jeans

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 44)

Making the iconic pants requires both color-addition and color-removal chemistry.

Shedding Nanoparticles

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 5)

Materials Science: Chemists observe metal objects sloughing off ions to form nanoparticles.

Modifying Messenger RNA

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 7)

Chemical Biology: Methylated bases in mRNA may have roles in gene regulation and obesity.

Lab-On-A-Chip For Planets, Moons

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 8)

Microfluidics: Automated chip is designed to detect extraterrestrial amino acids.

New Editor For Analytical Chemistry

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 9)

Publishing: Jonathan Sweedler to take the helm.

Science & Technology Concentrates

(October 24, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 43 | p. 37)


October 17, 2011

Improving Shop Safety

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | pp. 56-57)

Yale updates policies on machine shop use after student death.

Cleaning Acrylics

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | pp. 58-59)

Conservation scientists seek new ways to keep modern paintings looking their best.

Detecting H2S In Vivo (Member Content)

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | p. 60)

Studies could lead to sensitive and selective analyses for tiny signaling agent.

Rules For Design

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | p. 9)

Materials Science: Guidelines predict structures formed by nanoparticles and DNA linkers.

Identifying Modified Cells

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | p. 11)

Molecular Biology: Technique tags and enriches cells genetically altered by nucleases.

Linker-Free Molecular Wires

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | p. 12)

Electronics: Metal-carbon bonds increase electrical conductance.

Asymmetry From A Guest

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | p. 13)

Stereochemistry: Enzymelike pocket that hosts chiral species controls catalyst's enantioselectivity.

Science & Technology Concentrates

(October 17, 2011 | Vol. 89 Issue 42 | pp. 54-56)


Text Size A A

Because schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder, its physical manifestations must all be in the brain, right? Maybe not. Proteomic studies using cells from other parts of the body are showing that there might be a systemic aspect of the disorder. The ability to use nonbrain cells to study schizophrenia could make it easier to find biomarkers of the disease and to develop diagnostic tools.

To date, most studies of the disorder have been done with brain tissue taken from schizophrenia patients after death. A major drawback of such studies is that the tissue might no longer reflect the circumstances that existed while the patient was still alive.

“The problem with psychiatric disorders is that you can’t take biopsies at different disease stages,” says Sabine Bahn, director of the Cambridge Institute for Psychiatric Research at the University of Cambridge. “Patients would not be too happy to have pieces of brain taken at different time points.”

Bahn and her colleagues are investigating disease markers in tissues such as skin, immune cells, and blood serum to find samples that give a real-time picture of the disease. Their studies of protein expression in fibroblasts (skin cells) on schizophrenia patients’ arms have identified systemic problems such as cell-cycle abnormalities (J. Proteome Res. 2010, 9, 521).

“It’s clear that schizophrenia has a very strong genetic component,” Bahn says. “Most genes are not used only in the brain. If there is an underlying abnormality at the genetic level that leads to pathology in the brain, the assumption can be made that there should also be dysregulation in the peripheral system. It may not lead to pathology, but it may reflect the pathology in the brain.”

Bahn and her coworkers have seen that 40% of the changes observed in the brains of schizophrenia patients also occur in the peripheral systems. The affected pathways include cell replication, immune function, and glucose metabolism.

“We were pleased that some of our previous findings could be reproduced in the fibroblast system,” Bahn says. “It was reassuring that we can trace central nervous system abnormalities in the peripheral system.”

Bahn started out working with fibroblasts, but she is now using immune cells in her schizophrenia studies. Skin cells are easier to culture than immune cells, but the latter have the advantage that they are involved in more signaling pathways. Immune cells are “much more similar to neurons in the way they have to communicate with other cells,” Bahn says.

Other researchers see both advantages and disadvantages in using peripheral cells to study schizophrenia. “Differentially expressed proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid might be used as good biomarkers, but they are not always as informative as brain proteins regarding an understanding of the disease,” says Daniel Martins-de-Souza, a schizophrenia researcher at Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, in Munich.

Earlier studies from other labs suggest that the link between neural cells and peripheral cells might not be so clear cut. In a gene expression study using white blood cells and skin cells from schizophrenia patients and control individuals, Nicholas A. Matigian and coworkers of Queensland Institute of Medical Research, in Australia, found no convergent set of differentially expressed genes in the different cell types (PLoS One 2008, 3, e2412). The lack of a common set of changes in white blood cells and fibroblasts “weakens the case that these nonneuronal tissue sources are informative for detecting the underlying causative genetic and epigenetic changes responsible for” schizophrenia, the researchers wrote.

Bahn nevertheless believes peripheral-cell-based diagnostics will be useful. She and her coworkers have identified schizophrenia biomarkers in serum, and working with the company Rules-Based Medicine, located in Austin, Texas, and Lake Placid, N.Y., she expects that a serum-based test to aid in the diagnosis of schizophrenia will be launched sometime this year.

“We’ve identified a signature of numerous protein biomarkers, which give a very high sensitivity and specificity,” Bahn says. “We’ve looked at hundreds of samples from patients and controls and other disorders that are related to schizophrenia.”

The test would help confirm diagnoses made on the basis of conventional methods. “The customary window is often a delay of several years until someone is confirmed and diagnosed,” Bahn says. “We know very well that if patients are treated early in the disease process, we improve outcome.”

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
  • Print this article
  • Email the editor

Services & Tools

ACS Resources

ACS is the leading employment source for recruiting scientific professionals. ACS Careers and C&EN Classifieds provide employers direct access to scientific talent both in print and online. Jobseekers | Employers

» Join ACS

Join more than 161,000 professionals in the chemical sciences world-wide, as a member of the American Chemical Society.
» Join Now!