Several studies suggest that decreased expression of presynaptic proteins may be characteristic of schizophrenia. We examined one such protein, synapsin, in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Samples of hippocampal tissue from controls (n = 13), patients with schizophrenia (n = 16), or bipolar disorder (n = 6), and suicide victims (n = 7) were used. The membrane and cytosolic fractions were analyzed by Western immunoblotting for synapsin using an antibody that detects synapsin Ia, IIa, and IIIa proteins. Synaptophysin was also measured for comparison. Total synapsin was decreased significantly in patients with schizophrenia (P = 0.034) and in bipolar disorder (P = 0.00008) as compared to controls. The synapsin/synaptophysin ratios were decreased in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and additionally in suicide victims (P = 0.014). Age, postmortem interval, percentage of protein extracted, and pH of brain were not different between groups. No changes in total synapsin or synaptophysin in the hippocampus were produced by injecting rats with either lithium or haloperidol for 30 days. Reductions in synapsin in both patients with schizophrenia (synapsin IIa and IIIa) and bipolar disorder (synapsin Ia, IIa and IIIa) imply that altered or reduced synaptic function in the hippocampus may be involved in these disorders.