Synaptic dysfunction in schizophrenia

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2012;970:493-516. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7091-0932-8_22.


Schizophrenia alters basic brain processes of perception, emotion, and judgment to cause hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and cognitive deficits. Unlike neurodegeneration diseases that have irreversible neuronal degeneration and death, schizophrenia lacks agreeable pathological hallmarks, which makes it one of the least understood psychiatric disorders. With identification of schizophrenia susceptibility genes, recent studies have begun to shed light on underlying pathological mechanisms. Schizophrenia is believed to result from problems during neural development that lead to improper function of synaptic transmission and plasticity, and in agreement, many of the susceptibility genes encode proteins critical for neural development. Some, however, are also expressed at high levels in adult brain. Here, we will review evidence for altered neurotransmission at glutamatergic, GABAergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic synapses in schizophrenia and discuss roles of susceptibility genes in neural development as well as in synaptic plasticity and how their malfunction may contribute to pathogenic mechanisms of schizophrenia. We propose that mouse models with precise temporal and spatial control of mutation or overexpression would be useful to delineate schizophrenia pathogenic mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / embryology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine