Schizophrenia is a common profoundly disabling disorder that carries a heavy burden for patients and families and is the subject of intensive genetic studies. The study of epigenetic variation is an essential complement to conventional genetic disease studies, since the phenotypic consequence of DNA sequence depends on its epigenetic context. Unlike sequence variation, epigenetic marks, i.e. chemical modifications of DNA and associated proteins, are affected by age and the environment, providing an important link between the genetic predisposition to disease and crucially important risks related to lifetime epigenetic exposures. The importance of epigenetic marks in cancer is well established, and the relevance to neuropsychiatric disease is now emerging. An epigenetic contribution to schizophrenia (SZ) is supported by important, but often ignored discordance among MZ twins, the effects of DNA methylation (DNAm) precursors on psychotic symptoms in SZ, and evidence for DNAm variation in SZ candidate genes. This coordinated application builds on a strong foundation of an existing collaboration between six groups of investigators, with an already established and funded infrastructure, without which this research would not be possible. We have previously established a collaboration to investigate the epigenetics of SZ using a case-control approach with existing samples by collaborating with three large Consortia focusing on the genetics of SZ (MGI, COGS, PAARTNERS) that have already carried out extensive genetic and phenotypic studies on well-characterized patients, including quantitative neurocognitive phenotypes. Here we approach the epigenetics of SZ in the family members of the probands currently under study, as well as the relationship of epigenetic variation to quantitative neurocognitive phenotypes such as executive function, memory, language and emotion processing.
Our Specific Aims are: (2) To quantitatively assess methylation of >4 million CpG sites genome-wide, across 1000 SZ families, examining an average of 3 family members per proband with a total of 3000 family members;(2) To use these data to estimate the heritability of genome-wide methylation in SZ families, to perform family-based epigenetic association with SZ and to perform family-based integration of GWAS data with DNAm;and (3) to examine neurocognitive phenotypes available across families to estimate the relationship between methylation and cognitive efficiency within and across families. The proposed research offers a novel, timely, powerful, and comprehensive strategy for determining the familial epigenetic contribution to SZ, combining expertise in epigenetic technology of human disease with a network of collaborating consortia yielding large well-characterized samples of patients with SZ and their family members.

Public Health Relevance

Schizophrenia is a common, profoundly disabling disorder that carries a heavy burden for patients and families that is the subject of intensive genetic studies, but the study of epigenetic variation, such as DNA methylation, is an essential complement to conventional genetic disease studies, as epigenetic marks are affected by age and the environment. This project will provide a comprehensive genome-wide approach to the familial basis of schizophrenia, leveraging our ongoing study of an existing cohort of schizophrenic patients by examining family members for heritability of schizophrenia-related methylation changes, and by relating these changes to quantitative defects in cognition in patients and family members. The research offers a novel, timely, and powerful strategy for determining the familial epigenetic contribution to schizophrenia.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
High Impact Research and Research Infrastructure Programs (RC2)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-C (A2))
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Lehner, Thomas
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University of California San Diego
Schools of Medicine
La Jolla
United States
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