Half a century of antipsychotics and still a central role for dopamine D2 receptors

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Oct;27(7):1081-90. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2003.09.004.


A review of the history of antipsychotics reveals that while the therapeutic effects of chlorpromazine and reserpine were discovered and actively researched almost concurrently, subsequent drug development has been restricted to drugs acting on postsynaptic receptors rather than modulation of dopamine release. The fundamental property of atypical antipsychotics is their ability to produce an antipsychotic effect in the absence of extrapyramidal side effects (EPS) or prolactin elevation. Modulation of the dopamine D2 receptor remains both necessary and sufficient for antipsychotic drug action, with affinity to the D2-receptor being the single most important discriminator between a typical and atypical drug profile. Most antipsychotics, including atypical antipsychotics, show a dose-dependent threshold of D2 receptor occupancy for their therapeutic effects, although the precise threshold is different for different drugs. Some atypical antipsychotics do not appear to reach the threshold for EPS and prolactin elevation, possibly accounting for their atypical nature. To link the biological theories of antipsychotics to their psychological effects, a hypothesis is proposed wherein psychosis is a state of aberrant salience of stimuli and ideas, and antipsychotics, via modulation of the mesolimbic dopamine system, dampen the salience of these symptoms. Thus, antipsychotics do not excise psychosis: they provide the neurochemical platform for the resolution of symptoms. Future generations of antipsychotics may need to move away from a "one-size-fits-all polypharmacy-in-a-pill" approach to treat all the different aspects of schizophrenia. At least in theory a preferred approach would be the development of specific treatments for the different dimensions of schizophrenia (e.g., positive, negative, cognitive, and affective) that can be flexibly used and titrated in the service of patients' presenting psychopathology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / classification
  • Antipsychotic Agents / history
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Corpus Striatum / anatomy & histology
  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2