Perturbed iron biology in the prefrontal cortex of people with schizophrenia

Amit Lotan, Sandra Luza, Carlos M. Opazo, Scott Ayton, Darius J.R. Lane, Serafino Mancuso, Avril Pereira, Suresh Sundram, Cynthia Shannon Weickert, Chad Bousman, Christos Pantelis, Ian P. Everall, Ashley I. Bush

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Despite loss of grey matter volume and emergence of distinct cognitive deficits in young adults diagnosed with schizophrenia, current treatments for schizophrenia do not target disruptions in late maturational reshaping of the prefrontal cortex. Iron, the most abundant transition metal in the brain, is essential to brain development and function, but in excess, it can impair major neurotransmission systems and lead to lipid peroxidation, neuroinflammation and accelerated aging. However, analysis of cortical iron biology in schizophrenia has not been reported in modern literature. Using a combination of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and western blots, we quantified iron and its major-storage protein, ferritin, in post-mortem prefrontal cortex specimens obtained from three independent, well-characterised brain tissue resources. Compared to matched controls (n = 85), among schizophrenia cases (n = 86) we found elevated tissue iron, unlikely to be confounded by demographic and lifestyle variables, by duration, dose and type of antipsychotic medications used or by copper and zinc levels. We further observed a loss of physiologic age-dependent iron accumulation among people with schizophrenia, in that the iron level among cases was already high in young adulthood. Ferritin, which stores iron in a redox-inactive form, was paradoxically decreased in individuals with the disorder. Such iron-ferritin uncoupling could alter free, chemically reactive, tissue iron in key reasoning and planning areas of the young-adult schizophrenia cortex. Using a prediction model based on iron and ferritin, our data provide a pathophysiologic link between perturbed cortical iron biology and schizophrenia and indicate that achievement of optimal cortical iron homeostasis could offer a new therapeutic target.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2058-2070
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

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