DNA hypermethylation of serotonin transporter gene promoter in drug naïve patients with schizophrenia

Hamid Mostafavi Abdolmaleky, Shabnam Nohesara, Mohammad Ghadirivasfi, Arthur W. Lambert, Hamidreza Ahmadkhaniha, Sait Ozturk, Chen Khuan Wong, Rahim Shafa, Ashraf Mostafavi, Sam Thiagalingam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Introduction: Dysfunctional serotonin signaling has been linked to the pathogenesis of autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, mood disorders and schizophrenia. While the hypo-activity of serotonin signaling is involved in the pathogenesis of depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder; LSD, an agonist of serotonin type 2 receptor (5-HTR2A) induces psychosis. Therefore, anxiety and depressive disorders are treated by SSRIs which inhibit serotonin transporter (5-HTT) while psychotic disorders are controlled by drugs that block serotonin and/or dopamine receptors. Since genetic polymorphisms and epigenetic dysregulation of 5-HTT are involved in the pathogenesis of mental diseases, we analyzed DNA methylation of 5-HTT promoter in post-mortem brains and saliva samples of patients with schizophrenia (SCZ) and bipolar disorder (BD) to evaluate its potential application as a diagnostic and/or therapeutic biomarker in SCZ and BD. Methods: Whole genome DNA methylation profiling was performed for a total of 24 samples (including two saliva samples) using the Illumina 27. K (for 12 samples) and 450. K DNA methylation array platform (for another 12 samples), followed by bisulfite sequencing to identify candidate CpGs for further analysis. Quantitative methylation specific PCR (qMSP) was used to assess the degree of CpG methylation of 5-HTT promoter in 105 post-mortem brains (35 controls, 35 SCZ and 35 BD) and 100 saliva samples (30 controls, 30 SCZ, 20 BD and 20 first degree relatives of SCZ or BD). The U133 2.0 Plus Human Transcriptome array for a total of 30 post-mortem brain samples (each group 10) followed by quantitative real-time PCR was used to study 5-HTT expression in 105 post-mortem brain samples. Results: The qMSP analysis for 5-HTT promoter region showed DNA hypermethylation in post-mortem brain samples of SCZ patients (~. 30%), particularly in drug free patients (~. 60%, p. = 0.04). Similarly, there was a trend for DNA hypermethylation in antipsychotic free BD patients (~. 50%, p. = 0.066). qMSP analysis of DNA extracted from the saliva samples also exhibited hypermethylation of 5-HTT promoter in patients with SCZ (~. 30%, p. = 0.039), which was more significant in drug naïve SCZ patients (>. 50%, p. = 0.0025). However, the difference was not significant between the controls and unaffected first degree relatives of patients with SCZ (p. = 0.37) and versus patients using antipsychotic drugs (p. = 0.2). The whole genome transcriptome analysis of post-mortem brain samples showed reduced expression of 5-HTT in SCZ compared to the control subjects (~. 50%, p. = 0.008), confirmed by quantitative real-time PCR analysis (~40%, p. = 0.035) which was more significant in drug free SCZ patients (~70%, p. = 0.022). Conclusion: A correlation between reduction in 5-HTT expression and DNA hypermethylation of the 5-HTT promoter in drug naïve SCZ patients suggests that an epigenetically defined hypo-activity of 5-HTT may be linked to SCZ pathogenesis. Furthermore, this epigenetic mark in DNA extracted from saliva can be considered as one of the key determinants in a panel of diagnostic and/or therapeutic biomarkers for SCZ.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-380
Number of pages8
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain
  • DNA methylation
  • Saliva
  • Schizophrenia
  • Serotonin transporter


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