Elevated brain-derived cell-free DNA among patients with first psychotic episode – a proof-of-concept study

Asael Lubotzky, Ilana Pelov, Ronen Teplitz, Daniel Neiman, Adama Smadja, Hai Zemmour, Sheina Piyanzin, Bracha Lea Ochana, Kirsty L. Spalding, Benjamin Glaser, Ruth Shemer*, Yuval Dor*, Yoav Kohn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Schizophrenia is a common, severe, and debilitating psychiatric disorder. Despite extensive research there is as yet no biological marker that can aid in its diagnosis and course prediction. This precludes early detection and intervention. Imaging studies suggest brain volume loss around the onset and over the first few years of schizophrenia, and apoptosis has been proposed as the underlying mechanism. Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) fragments are released into the bloodstream following cell death. Tissue-specific methylation patterns allow the identification of the tissue origins of cfDNA. We developed a cocktail of brain-specific DNA methylation markers, and used it to assess the presence of brain-derived cfDNA in the plasma of patients with a first psychotic episode. We detected significantly elevated neuron-(p=0.0013), astrocyte-(p=0.0016), oligoden-drocyte-(p=0.0129), and whole brain-derived (p=0.0012) cfDNA in the plasma of patients during their first psychotic episode (n=29), compared with healthy controls (n=31). Increased cfDNA levels were not correlated with psychotropic medications use. Area under the curve (AUC) was 0.77, with 65% sensitivity at 90% specificity in patients with a psychotic episode. Potential interpretations of these findings include increased brain cell death, disruption of the blood-brain barrier, or a defect in clearance of material from dying brain cells. Brain-specific cfDNA methylation markers can poten-tially assist early detection and monitoring of schizophrenia and thus allow early intervention and adequate therapy.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere76391
StatePublished - 14 Jun 2022

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@ Lubotzky, Pelov et al.


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