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Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Nov 15;50(10):729-42.

Antipsychotic drugs and neuroplasticity: insights into the treatment and neurobiology of schizophrenia.

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Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


This paper reviews the evidence that antipsychotic drugs induce neuroplasticity. We outline how the synaptic changes induced by the antipsychotic drug haloperidol may help our understanding of the mechanism of action of antipsychotic drugs in general, and how they may help to elucidate the neurobiology of schizophrenia. Studies have provided compelling evidence that haloperidol induces anatomical and molecular changes in the striatum. Anatomical changes have been documented at the level of regional brain volume, synapse morphology, and synapse number. At the molecular level, haloperidol has been shown to cause phosphorylation of proteins and to induce gene expression. The molecular responses to conventional antipsychotic drugs are predominantly observed in the striatum and nucleus accumbens, whereas atypical antipsychotic drugs have a subtler and more widespread impact. We conclude that the ability of antipsychotic drugs to induce anatomical and molecular changes in the brain may be relevant for their antipsychotic properties. The delayed therapeutic action of antipsychotic drugs, together with their promotion of neuroplasticity suggests that modification of synaptic connections by antipsychotic drugs is important for their mode of action. The concept of schizophrenia as a disorder of synaptic organization will benefit from a better understanding of the synaptic changes induced by antipsychotic drugs.

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