Schizophrenia: from phenomenology to neurobiology

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2003 May;27(3):269-306. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(03)00035-6.


Schizophrenia is a common and debilitating illness, characterized by chronic psychotic symptoms and psychosocial impairment that exact considerable human and economic costs. The literature in electronic databases as well as citations and major articles are reviewed with respect to the phenomenology, pathology, treatment, genetics and neurobiology of schizophrenia. Although studied extensively from a clinical, psychological, biological and genetic perspective, our expanding knowledge of schizophrenia provides only an incomplete understanding of this complex disorder. Recent advances in neuroscience have allowed the confirmation or refutation of earlier findings in schizophrenia, and permit useful comparisons between the different levels of organization from which the illness has been studied. Schizophrenia is defined as a clinical syndrome that may include a collection of diseases that share a common presentation. Genetic factors are the most important in the etiology of the disease, with unknown environmental factors potentially modulating the expression of symptoms. Schizophrenia is a complex genetic disorder in which many genes may be implicated, with the possibility of gene-gene interactions and a diversity of genetic causes in different families or populations. A neurodevelopmental rather than degenerative process has received more empirical support as a general explanation of the pathophysiology, although simple dichotomies are not particularly helpful in such a complicated disease. Structural brain changes are present in vivo and post-mortem, with both histopathological and imaging studies in overall agreement that the temporal and frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex are the most affected. Functional imaging, neuropsychological testing and clinical observation are also generally consistent in demonstrating deficits in cognitive ability that correlate with abnormalities in the areas of the brain with structural abnormalities. The dopamine and other neurotransmitter systems are certainly involved in the treatment or modulation of psychotic symptoms. These broad findings represent the distillation of a large body of disparate data, but firm and specific findings are sparse, and much about schizophrenia remains unknown.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biological Phenomena
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenia / therapy
  • Schizophrenic Psychology


  • Antipsychotic Agents