DNA methylation of the t-PA gene differs between various immune cell subtypes isolated from depressed patients receiving electroconvulsive therapy
Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) represents a tremendous health threat to the world's population. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment option for refractory MDD patients. Ample evidence suggests brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to play a crucial role in ECT's mode of action. Tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) are involved in BDNF production. Hypothesis:The DNA methylation of gene regions encoding for t-PA and PAI-1 might be a suitable biomarker for ECT response prediction. Methods: We withdrew blood from two cohorts of treatment-resistant MDD patients receiving ECT. In the first cohort (n = 59), blood was collected at baseline only. To evaluate DNA methylation changes throughout the treatment course, we acquired a second group (n = 28) and took blood samples at multiple time points. DNA isolated from whole blood and defined immune cell subtypes (B cells, monocytes, natural killer cells, and T cells) served for epigenetic analyses. Results: Mixed linear models (corrected for multiple testing by Sidak's post-hoc test) revealed (1) no detectable baseline blood DNA methylation differences between ECT remitters (n = 33) and non-remitters (n = 53) in the regions analyzed, but (2) a significant difference in t-PA's DNA methylation between the investigated immune cell subtypes instead (p < 0.00001). This difference remained stable throughout the treatment course, showed no acute changes after ECT, and was independent of clinical remission. Conclusion: DNA methylation of both proteins seems to play a minor role in ECT's mechanisms. Generally, we recommend using defined immune cell subtypes (instead of whole blood only) for DNA methylation analyses.