Molecular and immunological origins of catatonia

Schizophr Res. 2024 Jan:263:169-177. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2023.03.013. Epub 2023 Mar 23.


Catatonia occurs secondary to both primary psychiatric and neuromedical etiologies. Emerging evidence suggests possible linkages between causes of catatonia and neuroinflammation. These include obvious infectious and inflammatory etiologies, common neuromedical illnesses such as delirium, and psychiatric entities such as depression and autism-spectrum disorders. Symptoms of sickness behavior, thought to be a downstream effect of the cytokine response, are common in many of these etiologies and overlap significantly with symptoms of catatonia. Furthermore, there are syndromes that overlap with catatonia that some would consider variants, including neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) and akinetic mutism, which may also have neuroinflammatory underpinnings. Low serum iron, a common finding in NMS and malignant catatonia, may be caused by the acute phase response. Cellular hits involving either pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMP) danger signals or the damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMP) danger signals of severe psychosocial stress may set the stage for a common pathway immunoactivation state that could lower the threshold for a catatonic state in susceptible individuals. Immunoactivation leading to dysfunction in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)/mid-cingulate cortex (MCC)/medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)/paralimbic cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical (CSTC) circuit, involved in motivation and movement, may be particularly important in generating the motor and behavioral symptoms of catatonia.

Keywords: Akinetic mutism; Catatonia; Immunoactivation; Inflammation; Neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Catatonia* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome* / etiology