• Epigenetics;
  • DNA Methylation;
  • Alcohol;
  • DNA Demethylation;
  • Psychosis


Recent studies suggest that protracted and excessive alcohol use induces an epigenetic dysregulation in human and rodent brains. We recently reported that DNA methylation dynamics are altered in brains of psychotic (PS) patients, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder patients. Because PS patients are often comorbid with chronic alcohol abuse, we examined whether the altered expression of multiple members of the DNA methylation/demethylation network observed in postmortem brains of PS patients was modified in PS patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse.


DNA-methyltransferase-1 (DNMT1) mRNA-positive neurons were counted in situ in prefrontal cortex samples obtained from the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, Belmont, MA. 10-11-translocation (TETs 1, 2, 3), apolipoprotein B editing complex enzyme (APOBEC-3C), growth and DNA-damage-inducible protein 45β (GADD45β), and methyl-binding domain protein-4 (MBD4) mRNAs were measured by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction in inferior parietal cortical lobule samples obtained from the Stanley Foundation Neuropathology Consortium, Bethesda, MD.


We observed an increase in DNMT1 mRNA-positive neurons in PS patients compared with non-PS subjects. In addition, there was a pronounced decrease in APOBEC-3C and a pronounced increase in GADD45β and TET1 mRNAs in PS patients with no history of alcohol abuse. In PS patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse, the numbers of DNMT1-positive neurons were not increased significantly. Furthermore, the decrease in APOBEC-3C mRNA was less pronounced, while the increase in TET1 mRNA had a tendency to be potentiated in those PS patients that were chronic alcohol abusers. GADD45β and MBD4 mRNAs were not influenced by alcohol abuse. The effect of chronic alcohol abuse on DNA methylation/demethylation network enzymes cannot be attributed to confounding demographic variables or to the type and dose of medication used.


Based on these results, we hypothesize that PS patients may abuse alcohol as a potential attempt at self-medication to normalize altered DNA methylation/demethylation network pathways. However, before accepting this conclusion, we need to study alterations in the DNA methylation/demethylation pathways and the DNA methylation dynamics in a substantial number of alcoholic PS and non-PS patients. Additional investigation may also be necessary to determine whether the altered DNA methylation dynamics are direct or the consequence of an indirect interaction of alcohol with the neuropathogenetic mechanisms underlying psychosis.