Antipsychotic medication in schizophrenia: a review

Br Med Bull. 2015 Jun;114(1):169-79. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldv017. Epub 2015 May 8.


Introduction: Antipsychotic medications are mainstays in the treatment of schizophrenia and a range of other psychotic disorders.

Sources of data: Recent meta-analyses of antipsychotic efficacy and tolerability have been included in this review, along with key papers on antipsychotic use in schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses.

Areas of agreement: The heterogeneity in terms of individuals' response to antipsychotic treatment and the current inability to predict response leads to a trial-and-error strategy with treatment choice. Clozapine is the only effective medication for treatment-resistant schizophrenia.

Areas of controversy: There are a significant number of side effects associated with antipsychotic use. With a reduction in the frequency of extrapyramidal side effects with the use of second-generation antipsychotics, there has been a significant shift in the side effect burden, with an increase in the risk of cardiometabolic dysfunction.

Growing points: There exist small and robust efficacy differences between medications (other than clozapine), and response and tolerability to each antipsychotic drug vary, with there being no first-line antipsychotic drug that is suitable for all patients.

Areas timely for developing research: A focus on the different symptom domains of schizophrenia may lead to endophenotypic markers being identified, e.g. for negative symptoms and cognitive deficits (as well as for positive symptoms) that can promote the development of novel therapeutics, which will rationally target cellular and molecular targets, rather than just the dopamine 2 receptor. Future developments will target additional processes, including glutamatergic, cholinergic and cannabinoid receptor targets and will utilize personalized medicine techniques, such as pharmacogenetic variants and biomarkers allowing for a tailored and safer use of antipsychotics.

Keywords: antipsychotic medication; psychotic disorders; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Clozapine / adverse effects
  • Clozapine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Resistance
  • Drug Substitution
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Clozapine