Association between bovine casein antibody and new onset schizophrenia among US military personnel

David W. Niebuhr*, Yuanzhang Li, David N. Cowan, Natalya S. Weber, Jared A. Fisher, Glen M. Ford, Robert Yolken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Schizophrenia is a pervasive neuropsychiatric disorder of uncertain etiology. Multiple studies have documented immune activation in individuals with schizophrenia. One antigen capable of inducing a prolonged immune response is bovine casein derived from ingested milk products. Increased levels of casein antibodies have been found in individuals with schizophrenia after diagnosis. This study was directed at determining the potential association between schizophrenia and pre-illness onset levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to bovine casein. Parallel analyses for casein antibody levels with bipolar disorder were included as comparison. Cases were service members who received medical discharges from the military with a schizophrenia diagnosis from 1992 to 2005. Serum specimens were selected for 855 cases and 1165 matched healthy controls. IgG antibodies to bovine whole-casein were measured by solid phase enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). Hazard ratios (HR) were calculated to examine the associations of casein IgG level with risk of schizophrenia by time to diagnosis and by subjects' initial level. Increasing casein IgG antibody levels among those with a high initial level, drawn before diagnosis, was associated with an 18% increase in the hazard risk of schizophrenia per unit increase (value of low-positive standard) in IgG antibody levels (HR = 1.18; 95% CI 1.04, 1.34). This is the first report to identify an association between the risk of schizophrenia and elevated antibodies to bovine casein prior to disease onset. Additional research is required to elucidate the complex genetic environmental interactions involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia and to identify potentially modifiable risk factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-55
Number of pages5
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Diet
  • Hazard ratio
  • Immunoglobulin g
  • Pre-onset
  • Serum


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