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01.12.2017 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Journal of Neuroinflammation 1/2017

Using blood cytokine measures to define high inflammatory biotype of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder

Journal of Neuroinflammation > Ausgabe 1/2017
Danny Boerrigter, Thomas W. Weickert, Rhoshel Lenroot, Maryanne O’Donnell, Cherrie Galletly, Dennis Liu, Martin Burgess, Roxanne Cadiz, Isabella Jacomb, Vibeke S. Catts, Stu G. Fillman, Cynthia Shannon Weickert
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12974-017-0962-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines are found in the brain and blood of people with schizophrenia. However, increased cytokines are not evident in all people with schizophrenia, but are found in a subset. The cytokine changes that best define this subset, termed the “elevated inflammatory biotype”, are still being identified.


Using quantitative RT-PCR, we measured five cytokine mRNAs (IL-1β, IL-2 IL-6, IL-8 and IL-18) from peripheral blood of healthy controls and of people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (n = 165). We used a cluster analysis of the transcript levels to define those with low and those with elevated levels of cytokine expression. From the same cohort, eight cytokine proteins (IL-1β, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-12, IFNγ and TNFα) were measured in serum and plasma using a Luminex Magpix-based assay. We compared peripheral mRNA and protein levels across diagnostic groups and between those with low and elevated levels of cytokine expression according to our transcription-based cluster analysis.


We found an overall decrease in the anti-inflammatory IL-2 mRNA (p = 0.006) and an increase in three serum cytokines, IL-6 (p = 0.010), IL-8 (p = 0.024) and TNFα (p < 0.001) in people with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls. A greater percentage of people with schizophrenia (48%) were categorised into the elevated inflammatory biotype compared to healthy controls (33%). The magnitude of increase in IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 mRNAs in people in the elevated inflammation biotype ranged from 100 to 220% of those in the non-elevated inflammatory biotype and was comparable between control and schizophrenia groups. Blood cytokine protein levels did not correlate with cytokine mRNA levels, and plasma levels of only two cytokines distinguished the elevated and low inflammatory biotypes, with IL-1β significantly increased in the elevated cytokine control group and IL-8 significantly increased in the elevated cytokine schizophrenia group.


Our results confirm that individuals with schizophrenia are more likely to have elevated levels of inflammation compared to controls. We suggest that efforts to define inflammatory status based on peripheral measures need to consider both mRNA and protein measures as each have distinct advantages and disadvantages and can yield different results.
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