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J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2006 May;31(3):157-67.

Schizophrenia: an integrative approach to modelling a complex disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.


The discovery of candidate susceptibility genes for schizophrenia and the generation of mice lacking proteins that reproduce biochemical processes that are disrupted in this mental illness offer unprecedented opportunities for improved modelling of this complex disorder. Several lines of evidence indicate that obstetrical complications, as well as fetal or neonatal exposure to viral infection, are predisposing events for some forms of schizophrenia. These environmental events can be modelled in animals, resulting in some of the characteristic features of schizophrenia; however, animal models have yet to be developed that encompass both environmental and genetic aspects of this mental illness. A large number of candidate schizophrenia susceptibility genes have been identified that encode proteins implicated in the regulation of synaptic plasticity, neurotransmission, neuronal migration, cell adherence, signal transduction, energy metabolism and neurite outgrowth. In support of the importance of these processes in schizophrenia, mice that have reduced levels or completely lack proteins that control glutamatergic neurotransmission, neuronal migration, cell adherence, signal transduction, neurite outgrowth and synaptic plasticity display many features reminiscent of schizophrenia. In the present review, we discuss strategies for modelling schizophrenia that involve treating mice that bear these mutations in a variety of ways to better model both environmental and genetic factors responsible for this complex mental illness according to a "two-hit hypothesis." Because rodents are able to perform complex cognitive tasks using odour but not visual or auditory cues, we hypothesize that olfactory-based tests of cognitive performance should be used to search for novel therapeutics that ameliorate the cognitive deficits that are a feature of this devastating mental disorder.

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