Neuroscientists at the UK-based University of Cambridge say that a protein found in immune cells may be a reliable marker for schizophrenia risk.
Sabine Bahn of the Institute of Biotechnology, affiliated to the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues sought to find a "protein fingerprint" in the blood considering that a biomarker for schizophrenia risk might offer a solution to the existing problem of delayed diagnosis and treatment.
The researchers compared protein profiles of schizophrenia patients as well as control subjects with the help of mass spectrometry.
They identified two peaks highlighting a significant change-alpha defensins, proteins responsible for killing microbes, and viruses in the innate immune response.
Sabine's team then confirmed the findings by examining alpha defensin levels in the blood of 21 twin pairs, where one sibling manifested the disease while the other did not.
It was observed that, in the twin sets, both siblings had significantly elevated alpha defensins as compared with a group of control twins.
Changes were also found in patients who were investigated soon after diagnosis, which means that higher levels of alpha defensins were not caused by medication or progression of the disease.
Since both discordant twins had elevated alpha defensins, say the researchers, these proteins do not indicate disease onset.
They, however, add that they could be a useful and simple marker for evaluating schizophrenia risk.
The researchers, however, also believe that more markers will be needed in order to develop a sensitive and specific schizophrenia blood test.
A research article on the study appears in the July issue of Molecular and Cellular proteomics.