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Schizophr Bull. 2001;27(3):457-76.

Neural development, cell-cell signaling, and the "two-hit" hypothesis of schizophrenia.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599, USA.


To account for the complex genetics, the developmental biology, and the late adolescent/early adulthood onset of schizophrenia, the "two-hit" hypothesis has gained increasing attention. In this model, genetic or environmental factors disrupt early central nervous system (CNS) development. These early disruptions produce long-term vulnerability to a "second hit" that then leads to the onset of schizophrenia symptoms. The cell-cell signaling pathways involved in nonaxial induction, morphogenesis, and differentiation in the brain, as well as in the limbs and face, could be targets for a "first hit" during early development. These same pathways, redeployed for neuronal maintenance rather than morphogenesis, may be targets for a "second hit" in the adolescent or adult brain. Furthermore, dysregulation of cell-cell signaling by a "first hit" may prime the CNS for a pathologic response to a "second hit" via the same signaling pathway. Thus, parallel disruption of cell-cell signaling in both the developing and the mature CNS provides a plausible way of integrating genetic, developmental, and environmental factors that contribute to vulnerability and pathogenesis in schizophrenia.

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