The negative symptoms of schizophrenia represent an impairment of normal emotional responses, thought processes and behaviors, and include blunting or flattening of affect, alogia/aprosody, avolition/apathy, anhedonia, and asociality. Negative symptoms contribute to a reduced quality of life, increased functional disability, increased burden of illness, and poorer long-term outcomes, to a greater degree than positive symptoms. Primary negative symptoms are prominent and persistent in up to 26% of patients with schizophrenia, and they are estimated to occur in up to 58% of outpatients at any given time. Negative symptoms respond less well to medications than positive symptoms, and to date treatment options for negative symptoms have been limited, with no accepted standard treatment. Modest benefits have been reported with a variety of different agents, including second-generation antipsychotics and add-on therapy with antidepressants and other pharmacological classes. Recent clinical research focusing on negative symptoms target novel biological systems, such as glutamatergic neurotransmission. Different approaches include: enhancing N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor function with agents that bind directly to the glycine ligand site or with glycine reuptake inhibitors; influencing the metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR2/3) with positive allosteric modulators; and stimulating nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. In conclusion, the lack of clearly efficacious pharmacological treatments for the management of negative symptoms represents a significant unmet need, especially considering the importance of these symptoms on patient outcomes. Hence, further research to identify and characterize novel pharmacological treatments for negative symptoms is greatly needed.
Keywords: 7-alpha nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists; NMDA receptor; glycine reuptake inhibitors; metabotropic glutamate receptor-2 (mGluR2); negative symptoms; schizophrenia.