Prenatal immune challenge (PIC) in pregnant rodents produces offspring with abnormalities in behavior, histology, and gene expression that are reminiscent of schizophrenia and autism. Based on this, the goal of this article was to review the main contributions of PIC models, especially the one using the viral-mimetic particle polyriboinosinic-polyribocytidylic acid (poly-I:C), to the understanding of the etiology, biological basis and treatment of schizophrenia. This systematic review consisted of a search of available web databases (PubMed, SciELO, LILACS, PsycINFO, and ISI Web of Knowledge) for original studies published in the last 10 years (May 2001 to October 2011) concerning animal models of PIC, focusing on those using poly-I:C. The results showed that the PIC model with poly-I:C is able to mimic the prodrome and both the positive and negative/cognitive dimensions of schizophrenia, depending on the specific gestation time window of the immune challenge. The model resembles the neurobiology and etiology of schizophrenia and has good predictive value. In conclusion, this model is a robust tool for the identification of novel molecular targets during prenatal life, adolescence and adulthood that might contribute to the development of preventive and/or treatment strategies (targeting specific symptoms, i.e., positive or negative/cognitive) for this devastating mental disorder, also presenting biosafety as compared to viral infection models. One limitation of this model is the incapacity to model the full spectrum of immune responses normally induced by viral exposure.