Schizophrenia as an inflammation-mediated dysbalance of glutamatergic neurotransmission

Neurotox Res. 2006 Oct;10(2):131-48. doi: 10.1007/BF03033242.


This overview tries to bridge the gap between psychoneuroimmunological findings and recent results from pharmacological, neurochemical and genetic studies in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder of dopaminergic neurotransmission, but modulation of the dopaminergic system by glutamatergic neurotransmission seems to play a key role. This view is supported by genetic findings of the neuregulin- and dysbindin genes, which have functional impact on the glutamatergic system. Glutamatergic hypofunction, however, is mediated by the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-receptor antagonism. The only endogenous NMDA receptor antagonist identified up to now is kynurenic acid (KYNA). Despite the NMDA receptor antagonism, KYNA also blocks, in lower doses, the nicotinergic acetycholine receptor, i.e., increased KYNA levels can explain psychotic symptoms and cognitive deterioration. KYNA levels are described to be higher in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and in critical central nervous system (CNS) regions of schizophrenics as compared to controls. Another line of evidence suggests that a (prenatal) infection is involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Due to an early sensitization process of the immune system or to a (chronic) infection, which is not cleared through the immune response, an immune imbalance between the type-1 and the type-2 immune responses takes place in schizophrenia. The type-1 response is partially inhibited, while the type-2 response is over-activated. This immune constellation is associated with inhibition of the enzyme indoleamine dioxygenase (IDO), because IDO - located in astrocytes and microglial cells - is inhibited by type-2 cytokines. IDO catalyzes the first step in tryptophan metabolism, the degradation from tryptophan to kynurenine, as does tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase (TDO). Due to the inhibition of IDO, tryptophan-kynurenine is predominantly metabolized by TDO, which is located in astrocytes, not in microglial or other CNS cells. In schizophrenia, astrocytes in particular are activated, as increased levels of S100B appear. Additionally, they do not have the enzymatic equipment for the normal metabolism-route of tryptophan. Due to the lack of kynurenine hydroxylase (KYN-OHase) in astrocytes, KYNA accumulates in the CNS, while the metabolic pathway in microglial cells is blocked. Accordingly, an increase of TDO activity has been observed in critical CNS regions of schizophrenics. These mechanisms result in an accumulation of KYNA in critical CNS regions. Thus, the immune-mediated glutamatergic-dopaminergic dysregulation may lead to the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia. Therapeutic consequences, e.g., the use of anti-inflammatory cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors, which can also decrease KYNA directly, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiopathology
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / pathology
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glutamic Acid