Objective: Phencyclidine (PCP, "angel dust") induces a psychotomimetic state that closely resembles schizophrenia. As opposed to amphetamine-induced psychosis, PCP-induced psychosis incorporates both positive (e.g., hallucinations, paranoia) and negative (e.g., emotional withdrawal, motor retardation) schizophrenic symptoms. PCP-induced psychosis also uniquely incorporates the formal thought disorder and neuropsychological deficits associated with schizophrenia. The purpose of the present paper is to review recent advances in the study of the molecular mechanisms of PCP action and to describe their implications for the understanding of schizophrenic pathophysiology.
Method: Twenty-five papers were identified that described the clinical dose and serum and CSF levels at which PCP induces its psychotomimetic effects. The dose range of PCP-induced effects were compared to the dose range at which PCP interacts with specific molecular targets and affects neurotransmission.
Results: It was found that PCP-induced psychotomimetic effects are associated with submicromolar serum concentrations of PCP. At these concentrations PCP interacts selectively with a specific binding site (PCP receptor) that is associated with the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type excitatory amino acid receptor. Occupation of its receptor by PCP induces noncompetitive inhibition of NMDA receptor-mediated neurotransmission. Other NMDA antagonists such as the dissociative anesthetic ketamine induce PCP-like neurobehavioral effects in proportion to their potency in binding to the PCP receptor and inducing NMDA receptor inhibition.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that endogenous dysfunction of NMDA receptor-mediated neurotransmission might contribute to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. The relative implications of the PCP and amphetamine models of schizophrenia are discussed in relationship to the diagnosis and etiology of schizophrenia.