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Genome-wide association studies suggest limited immune gene enrichment in schizophrenia compared to five autoimmune diseases

By Jennie G Pouget, Vanessa F Gonçalves, Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Sarah L. Spain, Hilary K Finucane, Gosia Trynka, James Kennedy, Jo Knight

Posted 31 Oct 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/030411 (published DOI: 10.1093/schbul/sbw059)

There has been intense debate over the immunological basis of schizophrenia, and the potential utility of adjunct immunotherapies. The major histocompatibility complex is consistently the most powerful region of association in genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of schizophrenia, and has been interpreted as strong genetic evidence supporting the immune hypothesis. However, global pathway analyses provide inconsistent evidence of immune involvement in schizophrenia, and it remains unclear whether genetic data support an immune etiology per se. Here we empirically test the hypothesis that variation in immune genes contributes to schizophrenia. We show that there is no enrichment of immune loci outside of the MHC region in the largest genetic study of schizophrenia conducted to date, in contrast to five diseases of known immune origin. Among 108 regions of the genome previously associated with schizophrenia, we identify six immune candidates (DPP4, HSPD1, EGR1, CLU, ESAM, NFATC3) encoding proteins with alternative, non-immune roles in the brain. While our findings do not refute evidence that has accumulated in support of the immune hypothesis, they suggest that genetically mediated alterations in immune function may not play a major role in schizophrenia susceptibility. Instead, there may be a role for pleiotropic effects of a small number of immune genes that also regulate brain development and plasticity. Whether immune alterations drive schizophrenia progression is an important question to be addressed by future research, especially in light of the growing interest in applying immunotherapies in schizophrenia.

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