A review by Paul Guest and Sabine Bahn (Cambridge University) and colleagues in Genome Medicine, highlights the ways that proteomics (in which high-throughput technologies such as mass spectrometry are used to examine all the proteins in a particular tissue or cell type) has been used as an unbiased screening approach to understand the pathways involved in schizophrenia and begin to move towards new therapies. This article is part of a special series on proteomic applications in medicine, to be published by Genome Medicine over the coming months.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness with symptoms that include delusions, hallucinations and speech difficulties. If caught early, treatment is effective, but detection is hampered by a lack of effective laboratory tests. Recently, biomarkers for this illness were identified and researchers are optimistic they can be used in clinical tests.
Discovering such biomarkers is particularly challenging in psychiatric disorders, where symptoms are often heterogeneous and overlap with other conditions. However, these approaches have revealed the inflammatory response and endocrine systems as promising candidates for understanding disease etiology and thus for identifying potential therapeutic approaches. Proteomic profiling may also have a role in pharmacogenomics of schizophrenia: by predicting response to a specific therapy using protein biomarkers, drugs that are ineffective or cause side effects in a specific patient may be avoided.
Schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders remain difficult to characterise molecularly, which in turn makes the development of new, more effective treatments with fewer side effects frustratingly difficult. This review covers important developments that may begin to open up promising areas of research, perhaps identify new targets for drug development and eventually lead to the development of blood-based diagnostic tests for mental disorders.