Schizophrenia spectrum disorders in persons exposed to ionizing radiation as a result of the Chernobyl accident

Schizophr Bull. 2000;26(4):751-73. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.schbul.a033492.


We studied schizophrenia spectrum disorders in Chernobyl accident survivors by analyzing Chernobyl exclusion zone (EZ) archives (1986-1997) and by conducting a psychophysiological examination of 100 patients with acute radiation sickness (ARS) and 100 workers of the Chernobyl EZ who had worked as "liquidators-volunteers" for 5 or more years since 1986-1987. Beginning in 1990, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of schizophrenia in EZ personnel in comparison to the general population (5.4 per 10,000 in the EZ versus 1.1 per 10,000 in the Ukraine in 1990). Those irradiated by moderate to high doses (more than 0.30 Sv or 30 rem), including ARS patients, had significantly more left frontotemporal limbic and schizophreniform syndromes. We hypothesized that ionizing radiation may be an environmental trigger that can actualize a predisposition to schizophrenia or indeed cause schizophrenia-like disorders. The development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in overirradiated Chernobyl survivors may be due to radiation-induced left frontotemporal limbic dysfunction, which may be the neurophysiological basis of schizophrenia-like symptoms. Persons exposed to 0.30 Sv or more are at higher risk of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. An integration of international efforts to discuss and organize collaborative studies in this field is of great importance for both clinical medicine and neuroscience.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Prevalence
  • Radiation Injuries / complications*
  • Radiation Injuries / epidemiology
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology
  • Radiation Injuries / physiopathology
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Radioactive Hazard Release*
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology*
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Ukraine / epidemiology