Neurobiological background of negative symptoms

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2015 Oct;265(7):543-58. doi: 10.1007/s00406-015-0590-4. Epub 2015 Mar 24.


Studies investigating neurobiological bases of negative symptoms of schizophrenia failed to provide consistent findings, possibly due to the heterogeneity of this psychopathological construct. We tried to review the findings published to date investigating neurobiological abnormalities after reducing the heterogeneity of the negative symptoms construct. The literature in electronic databases as well as citations and major articles are reviewed with respect to the phenomenology, pathology, genetics and neurobiology of schizophrenia. We searched PubMed with the keywords "negative symptoms," "deficit schizophrenia," "persistent negative symptoms," "neurotransmissions," "neuroimaging" and "genetic." Additional articles were identified by manually checking the reference lists of the relevant publications. Publications in English were considered, and unpublished studies, conference abstracts and poster presentations were not included. Structural and functional imaging studies addressed the issue of neurobiological background of negative symptoms from several perspectives (considering them as a unitary construct, focusing on primary and/or persistent negative symptoms and, more recently, clustering them into factors), but produced discrepant findings. The examined studies provided evidence suggesting that even primary and persistent negative symptoms include different psychopathological constructs, probably reflecting the dysfunction of different neurobiological substrates. Furthermore, they suggest that complex alterations in multiple neurotransmitter systems and genetic variants might influence the expression of negative symptoms in schizophrenia. On the whole, the reviewed findings, representing the distillation of a large body of disparate data, suggest that further deconstruction of negative symptomatology into more elementary components is needed to gain insight into underlying neurobiological mechanisms.

Keywords: Deficit schizophrenia; Genetic; Negative symptoms; Neuroimaging; Neurotransmissions; Persistent negative symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Schizophrenia / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia / pathology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Serotonin
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine