Genes, germs, and schizophrenia: an evolutionary perspective

Perspect Biol Med. Summer 2003;46(3):317-48. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2003.0038.


Literature on schizophrenia and other mental illnesses has emphasized the compatibility of evidence with genetic causation without adequately considering alternative hypotheses of disease causation. Although some studies from the mid-20th century reported associations between certain pathogens and schizophrenia, only recently has the possibility of infectious causation of schizophrenia again become an active focus of research. Infectious causation of schizophrenia is still, however, generally regarded as less well demonstrated than genetic causation. This article evaluates the evidence that has been used to support genetic and infectious causation. Our consideration of infectious causation focuses on the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii but also assesses other pathogens that may contribute to the development of some of the illnesses currently categorized as schizophrenia. Although evidence generally accepted as demonstrating genetic causation can be readily explained by hypotheses of infectious causation, some of the evidence implicating infectious causation cannot be similarly explained by genetic causation. This asymmetry indicates that a scientific approach to the causation of schizophrenia needs to put a greater emphasis on tests that distinguish hypotheses of genetic causation from those of infectious causation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / parasitology
  • Schizophrenia / virology
  • Toxoplasma / pathogenicity
  • Toxoplasmosis / etiology