Antipsychotic-induced rabbit syndrome: epidemiology, management and pathophysiology

CNS Drugs. 2004;18(4):213-20. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200418040-00002.


Rabbit syndrome is an antipsychotic-induced rhythmic motion of the mouth/lips, resembling the chewing movements of a rabbit. The movement consists of a vertical-only motion, at about 5Hz, with no involvement of the tongue. Usually, the involuntary movements associated with rabbit syndrome appear after a long period (in most cases months or years) of antipsychotic treatment; however, a few patients with the syndrome have had treatment histories with no antipsychotic involvement. The reported prevalence of rabbit syndrome ranges from 2.3 to 4.4% of patients treated with typical antipsychotics. There have been isolated reports of rabbit syndrome in patients treated with the atypical agents risperidone and clozapine. Patients with rabbit syndrome are most often misdiagnosed as having oral tardive dyskinesia. In such cases the key for correct diagnosis is the involvement of tardive tongue movements, which does not occur in rabbit syndrome. The treatment of rabbit syndrome is empirical, reflecting poor understanding of its neuropathology. The first step is to reduce the amount of antipsychotic treatment as much as possible. However, since, in most cases, full withdrawal of antipsychotic treatment is impossible, the syndrome cannot be completely abolished without additional measures. The next stage of treatment involves specific drugs that aim to control the syndrome. Anticholinergic drugs are the best known treatment. Rabbit syndrome does not respond to treatment with levodopa or dopamine agonists. The most striking aspect of this syndrome is its specificity. Rabbit syndrome affects only the buccal region, and within this area it involves a highly stereotyped involuntary movement. This immediately focuses attention on the basal ganglia, in particular the substantia nigra pars reticulata, which is also implicated in oral dyskinesia. Continuing neurophysiological and pharmacological research of the basal ganglia holds the key to better understanding and treatment of this syndrome in the coming years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Clozapine / adverse effects
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced* / epidemiology
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced* / etiology
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced* / physiopathology
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Rabbits
  • Risperidone / adverse effects


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Clozapine
  • Risperidone