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Ann Med. 2003;35(2):86-93.

The neurodevelopmental hypothesis of schizophrenia: a review of recent developments.

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  • 1Queensland Centre for Schizophrenia Research, The Park Center for Mental Health, Wacol, Qld 4076, Australia.


The neurodevelopmental hypothesis (NDH) of schizophrenia suggests that a disruption of brain development during early life underlies the later emergence of psychosis during adulthood. The aim of this review is to chart the challenges and subsequent refinements to this hypothesis, with particular reference to the static versus progressive nature of the putative neurobiological processes underlying the NDH. A non-systematic literature review was undertaken, with an emphasis on major review papers relevant to the NDH. Weaknesses in the explanatory power of the NDH have led to a new generation of more refined hypotheses in recent years. In particular, recent versions of the hypothesis have incorporated evidence from structural neuroimaging which suggests changes in brain volumes after the onset of schizophrenia. More detailed models that incorporate progressive neurobiological processes have replaced early versions of the NDH, which were based on a 'static encephalopathy'. In addition, recent models have suggested that two or more 'hits' are required over the lifespan rather than only one early-life event. Animal models are providing important insights into the sequelae of disturbed early brain development. The NDH has provided great impetus to the schizophrenia research community. Recent versions of the hypothesis have encouraged more focused and testable hypotheses.

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