Glutamatergic theories of schizophrenia

Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci. 2010;47(1):4-16.


Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects up to 1% of the population worldwide. Traditional models of schizophrenia have emphasized dopaminergic dysfunction. Over the last 20 years, however, limitations of the dopamine model have become increasingly apparent, necessitating development of alternative models. Glutamatergic models are based upon the observation that the psychotomimetic agents such as phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine induce psychotic symptoms and neurocognitive disturbances similar to those of schizophrenia by blocking neurotransmission at N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptors. Because glutamate/NMDA receptors are located throughout the brain, glutamatergic models predict widespread cortical dysfunction with particular involvement of NMDA receptors throughout the brain. Further, NMDA receptors are located on brain circuits that regulate dopamine release, suggesting that dopaminergic deficits in schizophrenia may also be secondary to underlying glutamatergic dysfunction. Agents that stimulate NMDA receptor-mediated neurotransmission, including glycine-site agonists and glycine transport inhibitors, have shown encouraging results in preclinical studies and are currently undergoing clinical development. Encouraging results have been observed as well with agents such as metabotropic 2/3 agonists that decrease resting glutamate levels, reversing potential disruption in firing patterns within prefrontal cortex and possibly other brain regions. Overall, these findings suggest that glutamatergic theories may lead to new conceptualizations and treatment approaches that would not be possible based upon dopaminergic models alone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / pharmacology
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Phencyclidine / pharmacology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • metabotropic glutamate receptor 2
  • metabotropic glutamate receptor 3
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Ketamine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Dopamine