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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Apr;203(2):279-94. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1308-3. Epub 2008 Sep 16.

Discriminative stimulus properties of atypical and typical antipsychotic drugs: a review of preclinical studies.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 806 West Franklin Street, P.O. Box 842018, Richmond, VA, USA.



Drug discrimination is an increasingly valuable behavioral assay for the preclinical development of antipsychotic drugs. The majority of studies have used the atypical antipsychotic clozapine because it displays robust discriminative stimulus properties and is the "prototypical" or "gold standard" atypical antipsychotic against which other antipsychotics will undoubtedly be compared for many years.


Pharmacological mechanisms mediating the discriminative stimulus properties of antipsychotics used as training drugs and the usefulness of drug discrimination for distinguishing typical and atypical antipsychotics were reviewed.


Clozapine appears to have a compound cue involving antagonism of two or more receptors. While muscarinic receptor antagonism is a prominent factor for mediation of clozapine's cue in rats with a 5.0-mg/kg training dose, there are differences in clozapine's cue with a low training dose and in pigeons and mice. With a low training dose, clozapine has consistently produced full or partial generalization to atypical but not to typical antipsychotics. Although not evaluated as extensively, the atypical antipsychotics quetiapine and ziprasidone also appear to generalize to atypical but not typical antipsychotics. This has not been the case for other antipsychotic drugs (olanzapine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol) used as training drugs.


There are important differences in discriminative stimulus properties both between and within atypical and typical antipsychotics and across species. While low-dose clozapine discrimination in rats appears to provide a more sensitive behavioral assay for distinguishing atypical from typical antipsychotics, the extent to which clozapine's discriminative stimulus properties are predictive of its antipsychotic effects remains to be determined.

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