The early stages of schizophrenia: speculations on pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and therapeutic approaches

Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Dec 1;50(11):884-97. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(01)01303-8.


Schizophrenia is commonly considered a neurodevelopmental disorder that is associated with significant morbidity; however, unlike other neurodevelopmental disorders, the symptoms of schizophrenia often do not manifest for decades. In most patients, the formal onset of schizophrenia is preceded by prodromal symptoms, including positive symptoms, mood symptoms, cognitive symptoms, and social withdrawal. The proximal events that trigger the formal onset of schizophrenia are not clear but may include developmental biological events and environmental interactions or stressors. Treatment with antipsychotic drugs clearly ameliorates psychotic symptoms, and maintenance therapy may prevent the occurrence of relapse. The use of atypical antipsychotic agents may additionally ameliorate the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and prevent disease progression. Moreover, if treated properly early in the course of illness, many patients can experience a significant remission of their symptoms and are capable of a high level of recovery following the initial episode. Because the clinical deterioration that occurs in schizophrenia may actually begin in the prepsychotic phase, early identification and intervention may favorably alter the course and outcome of schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Age of Onset
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Progression
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenia / etiology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs