From trans-methylation to cytosine methylation: evolution of the methylation hypothesis of schizophrenia.

PMID 19395859


The role of methylation in the history of psychiatry has traversed a storied path. The original trans-methylation hypothesis was proposed at a time when chlorpromazine had been synthesized but not yet marketed as an antipsychotic (Thorazine). The premise was that abnormal metabolism led to the methylation of biogenic amines in the brains of schizophrenia patients and that these hallucinogenic compounds produced positive symptoms of the disease. At the time, some psychiatrists were interested in drugs such as mescaline and lysergic acid diethylamide that replicated clinical symptoms. They understood that these compounds might provide a biological basis for psychosis. The amino acid methionine (MET) was given to patients in the hopes of confiriming the transmethylation hypothesis. However with time, many realized that the hunt for an endogenous psychotropic compound would remain elusive. We now believe that the MET studies may have produced a toxic reaction in susceptible patients by disrupting epigenetic regulation in the brain. The focus of the current review is on the coordinate regulation of multiple promoters expressed in neurons that may be modulated through methylation. While certainly the identification of genes and promoters regulated epigenetically has been steadily increasing over the years, there have been few studies that examine methylation changes as a consequence of increased levels of a dietary amino acid such as methionine (MET). We suggest that the MET mouse model may provide information regarding the identification of genes that are regulated by epigenetic perturbations. In addition to our studies with the reelin and GAD67 promoters, we also have evidence that additional promoters expressed in select neurons of the brain are similarly affected by MET administration. We suggest that to expand our knowledge of epigenetically-responsive promoters using MET might allow for a better appreciation of global methylation changes occurring in selected brain regions.