Current pathophysiological models of schizophrenia focus on neurodevelopmental and immunological mechanisms. We investigated a molecular pathway traditionally linked to the neurodevelopmental hypothesis (neuregulin 1 - ErbB), and pathogen-associated pattern recognition receptors associated with the immune hypothesis (Toll-like receptors, TLRs). We recruited 42 first-episode, drug-naïve patients with schizophrenia and 42 matched healthy control subjects. In monocytes TLR4/TLR5 and ErbB expressions were measured with flow-cytometry. Pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α) and the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 were determined following the stimulation of TLR4/TLR5 and ErbB. Results revealed increased TLR4/TLR5 and decreased ErbB4 expression in schizophrenia relative to the control subjects. The expression of ErbB2 and ErbB3 receptors was unaltered in schizophrenia. TLR4 stimulation resulted in lower pro-inflammatory cytokine production in schizophrenia compared to the control levels, whereas the stimulation of ErbB by neuregulin 1 led to higher pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in patients with schizophrenia relative to the control group. In healthy controls, ErbB activation was associated with a marked production of IL-10, which was dampened in schizophrenia. These results indicate that the stimulation of TLR4 and ErbB induces opposite pro-inflammatory cytokine responses in schizophrenia.
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