Dopaminergic dysfunction in schizophrenia: salience attribution revisited

Schizophr Bull. 2010 May;36(3):472-85. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbq031. Epub 2010 May 7.


A dysregulation of the mesolimbic dopamine system in schizophrenia patients may lead to aberrant attribution of incentive salience and contribute to the emergence of psychopathological symptoms like delusions. The dopaminergic signal has been conceptualized to represent a prediction error that indicates the difference between received and predicted reward. The incentive salience hypothesis states that dopamine mediates the attribution of "incentive salience" to conditioned cues that predict reward. This hypothesis was initially applied in the context of drug addiction and then transferred to schizophrenic psychosis. It was hypothesized that increased firing (chaotic or stress associated) of dopaminergic neurons in the striatum of schizophrenia patients attributes incentive salience to otherwise irrelevant stimuli. Here, we review recent neuroimaging studies directly addressing this hypothesis. They suggest that neuronal functions associated with dopaminergic signaling, such as the attribution of salience to reward-predicting stimuli and the computation of prediction errors, are indeed altered in schizophrenia patients and that this impairment appears to contribute to delusion formation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Delusions / diagnosis
  • Delusions / physiopathology
  • Delusions / psychology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Personal Construct Theory*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Dopamine