Consciousness and hallucinations in schizophrenia: the role of synapse regression

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 Nov;42(11):915-31. doi: 10.1080/00048670802419253.


Consciousness takes two forms, transitive and intransitive. Transitive consciousness is a matter of being conscious of something or other whereas intransitive consciousness has no object, as being conscious or awake. Of the different forms of transitive consciousness, perceptual, somatic, kinaesthetic and so on, cognitive neuroscience has concentrated on determining the neural concomitants of perceptual consciousness. To be conscious of a percept is to be aware of it and this requires attending to it. This work sets out a hypothesis as to what brain areas are involved in a schizophrenia subject attending and becoming aware of hallucinations. First, the different areas of cortex that support different visual and auditory illusions of percepts are considered. Next it is argued that endogenous activity in these areas of cortex give rise to hallucinations of percepts that are similar to the percepts that these same areas support during illusions. The basis of such endogenous activity, it is suggested, is to be found in the paucity of afferent synapses to these cortical areas. This may occur as a consequence of loss and regression of synapses due to a degenerative disease or because of abnormal synapse formation and regression during childhood and adolescence, as is likely to be the case in schizophrenia. Finally the neural basis of attention and awareness of these hallucinations are considered for subjects suffering from schizophrenia, and a set of important questions posed that await elucidation through future experimental studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Optical Illusions / physiology
  • Perceptual Distortion / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology