Author(s): Rubio MD, Drummond JB, MeadorWoodruff JH
Schizophrenia is a devastating psychiatric illness that afflicts 1% of the population worldwide, resulting in substantial impact to patients, their families, and health care delivery systems. For many years, schizophrenia has been felt to be associated with dysregulated dopaminergic neurotransmission as a key feature of the pathophysiology of the illness. Although numerous studies point to dopaminergic abnormalities in schizophrenia, dopamine dysfunction cannot completely account for all of the symptoms seen in schizophrenia, and dopamine-based treatments are often inadequate and can be associated with serious side effects. More recently, converging lines of evidence have suggested that there are abnormalities of glutamate transmission in schizophrenia. Glutamatergic neurotransmission involves numerous molecules that facilitate glutamate release, receptor activation, glutamate reuptake, and other synaptic activities. Evidence for glutamatergic abnormalities in schizophrenia primarily has implicated the NMDA and AMPA subtypes of the glutamate receptor. The expression of these receptors and other molecules associated with glutamate neurotransmission has been systematically studied in the brain in schizophrenia. These studies have generally revealed region- and molecule-specific changes in glutamate receptor transcript and protein expression in this illness. Given that glutamatergic neurotransmission has been implicated in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia, recent drug development efforts have targeted the glutamate system. Much effort to date has focused on modulation of the NMDA receptor, although more recently other glutamate receptors and transporters have been the targets of drug development. These efforts have been promising thus far, and ongoing efforts to develop additional drugs that modulate glutamatergic neurotransmission are underway that may hold the potential for novel classes of more effective treatments for this serious psychiatric illness.