Objective: Visual contrast detection has been reported in some studies to be normal in schizophrenia patients, but in other studies impairments have been reported. Because contrast detection in the visual processing system is mediated by dopamine, and because the pharmacotherapy of schizophrenia involves blocking dopamine postsynaptic receptor sites, the authors investigated the effects of dopamine-blocking antipsychotic drugs on visual contrast detection in schizophrenia.
Method: Visual contrast detection thresholds were measured in healthy subjects and schizophrenia patients receiving typical and atypical antipsychotic drugs; a two-alternative, forced-choice psychophysical method was used. Also included were six patients receiving no antipsychotic treatment as well as clinically unaffected first-degree relatives of the schizophrenia patients.
Results: Patients receiving atypical antipsychotic drugs showed unimpaired visual contrast detection, those given typical antipsychotic drugs exhibited higher visual contrast detection thresholds, and the unmedicated schizophrenic patients showed visual contrast detection thresholds significantly below those of healthy subjects.
Conclusions: Dopamine modulation via D(2) receptor blockade affects sensory processes in schizophrenia, shifting visual contrast detection from hypersensitivity in the unmedicated state to normal and even to hyposensitive levels. Thus, antipsychotic drug treatment may account for the inconsistent reports concerning visual contrast detection in schizophrenia.