Blood Levels of Monoamine Precursors and Smoking in Patients with Schizophrenia

Ashwin Jacob Mathai, Jyoti Kanwar, Olaoluwa Okusaga, Dietmar Fuchs, Christopher A. Lowry, Xiaoqing Peng, Ina Giegling, Annette M. Hartmann, Bettina Konte, Marion Friedl, Claudia Gragnoli, Gloria M. Reeves, Maureen W. Groer, Richard N. Rosenthal, Dan Rujescu, Teodor T. Postolache

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5 Scopus citations


Smoking is highly prevalent in patients with schizophrenia and exerts a negative impact on cardiovascular mortality in these patients. Smoking has complex interactions with monoamine metabolism through the ability of cigarette smoke to suppress Type 1 T helper cell (Th1) type immunity, the immunophenotype that is implicated in phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) dysfunction and tryptophan (Trp) breakdown to kynurenine (Kyn) via indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase. Nicotine also induces tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene expression, leading to increased synthesis of catecholamines. Furthermore, there is evidence for PAH dysfunction in schizophrenia. This study aimed to compare the plasma levels of selected monoamine precursors and their metabolites in smokers vs. non-smokers in a large sample of patients with schizophrenia. We measured plasma phenylalanine (Phe), tyrosine (Tyr), Trp, and Kyn levels using high-performance liquid chromatography and calculated Phe:Tyr and Kyn:Trp ratios in 920 patients with schizophrenia. Analysis of variance and linear regression analyses were used to compare these endpoints between three groups of patients with schizophrenia: (1) current smokers, (2) past smokers, and (3) non-smokers. There were significant differences among the three groups with regards to Tyr levels [F(2,789) = 3.77, p = 0.02], with current smokers having lower Tyr levels when compared with non-smokers (p = 0.02). Kyn levels and Kyn:Trp ratio were different among the three groups [F(2,738) = 3.17, p = 0.04, F(2,738) = 3.61, p = 0.03] with current smokers having lower Kyn levels (p = 0.04) and higher Kyn:Trp ratio (p = 0.02) when compared with past smokers. These findings need to be replicated with protocols that include healthy controls to further elucidate the neurobiological underpinnings of altered Tyr and Kyn levels in smokers. Results do suggest potential molecular links between schizophrenia and smoking that may represent biomarkers and treatment targets for reducing an important modifiable cause of general morbidity and mortality in patients with schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number182
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
StatePublished - 30 Aug 2016


  • kynurenine
  • phenylalanine
  • schizophrenia
  • smoking
  • tryptophan
  • tyrosine


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