Treatments for Schizophrenia: A Critical Review of Pharmacology and Mechanisms of Action of Antipsychotic Drugs

Mol Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;10(1):79-104. doi: 10.1038/


The treatment of schizophrenia has evolved over the past half century primarily in the context of antipsychotic drug development. Although there has been significant progress resulting in the availability and use of numerous medications, these reflect three basic classes of medications (conventional (typical), atypical and dopamine partial agonist antipsychotics) all of which, despite working by varying mechanisms of actions, act principally on dopamine systems. Many of the second-generation (atypical and dopamine partial agonist) antipsychotics are believed to offer advantages over first-generation agents in the treatment for schizophrenia. However, the pharmacological properties that confer the different therapeutic effects of the new generation of antipsychotic drugs have remained elusive, and certain side effects can still impact patient health and quality of life. Moreover, the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs is limited prompting the clinical use of adjunctive pharmacy to augment the effects of treatment. In addition, the search for novel and nondopaminergic antipsychotic drugs has not been successful to date, though numerous development strategies continue to be pursued, guided by various pathophysiologic hypotheses. This article provides a brief review and critique of the current therapeutic armamentarium for treating schizophrenia and drug development strategies and theories of mechanisms of action of antipsychotics, and focuses on novel targets for therapeutic agents for future drug development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / classification
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavioral Symptoms / drug therapy
  • Dopamine Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Design
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / drug effects
  • Receptors, Glutamate / drug effects
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Dopamine Agents
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Receptors, Glutamate