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Psychiatr Danub. 2010 Mar;22(1):14-27.

Niacin skin flush test: a research tool for studying schizophrenia.

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Department of Biology and Medical Genetics, School of Medicine, University of Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia.



A body of biochemical evidence suggests that abnormal phospholipid metabolism may play a role in the etiology of schizophrenia, and possibly, other psychiatric and neurological diseases. Niacin, a B-complex vitamin, induces prostaglandin synthesis, vasodilatation, and skin flushing when applied as a solution on the skin or taken orally. In schizophrenia, diminished or absent skin response to niacin represents a robust finding.


Attenuated niacin skin-flush response has been analysed as a potential biochemical marker of impaired prostaglandin signaling in schizophrenia. Diminished skin redness after topical application of niacin might be caused by a reduced level of the precursor arachidonic acid in the peripheral membranes, increased activity of the enzyme phospholipase A2, abnormal expression of niacin or prostaglandin receptors, or poor vasomotor activity of cutaneous capillary walls. Heritability estimates established in several studies support niacin skin flush response as a vulnerability trait for the development of psychosis. However, the exact mechanism of a reduced skin flush, the possible influence of the long-term use of antipsychotics, and the usefulness of the test for diagnostic purpose are not clear yet.


Niacin skin flush test is a simple, non-invasive and easily replicable method in the research of schizophrenia. The studies investigating niacin flushing in schizophrenia are numerous but incoherent regarding methods of niacin application and evaluation of the results. New studies, controlling adequately for age, sex, drug abuse, diet, as well as genetic factors that may influence the intensity and reaction time, are necessary to clarify the usefulness of niacin testing in psychiatry.

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