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World Psychiatry. 2017 Oct;16(3):227-235. doi: 10.1002/wps.20440.

Schizophrenia and the neurodevelopmental continuum:evidence from genomics.

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Medical Research Council Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.


The idea that disturbances occurring early in brain development contribute to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia, often referred to as the neurodevelopmental hypothesis, has become widely accepted. Despite this, the disorder is viewed as being distinct nosologically, and by implication pathophysiologically and clinically, from syndromes such as autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intellectual disability, which typically present in childhood and are grouped together as "neurodevelopmental disorders". An alternative view is that neurodevelopmental disorders, including schizophrenia, rather than being etiologically discrete entities, are better conceptualized as lying on an etiological and neurodevelopmental continuum, with the major clinical syndromes reflecting the severity, timing and predominant pattern of abnormal brain development and resulting functional abnormalities. It has also been suggested that, within the neurodevelopmental continuum, severe mental illnesses occupy a gradient of decreasing neurodevelopmental impairment as follows: intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Recent genomic studies have identified large numbers of specific risk DNA changes and offer a direct and robust test of the predictions of the neurodevelopmental continuum model and gradient hypothesis. These findings are reviewed in detail. They not only support the view that schizophrenia is a disorder whose origins lie in disturbances of brain development, but also that it shares genetic risk and pathogenic mechanisms with the early onset neurodevelopmental disorders (intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders and ADHD). They also support the idea that these disorders lie on a gradient of severity, implying that they differ to some extent quantitatively as well as qualitatively. These findings have important implications for nosology, clinical practice and research.


ADHD; Schizophrenia; autism; bipolar disorder; copy number variants; genomics; intellectual disability; neurodevelopment

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