Neurodevelopmental models of schizophrenia that identify longitudinal precursors of illness have been of great heuristic importance focusing most etiologic research over the past two decades. These models have varied considerably with respect to specificity and timing of hypothesized genetic and environmental ‘hits’, but have largely focused on insults to prenatal brain development. With heritability around 80%, nongenetic factors impairing development must also be part of the model, and any model must also account for the wide range of age of onset. In recent years, longitudinal brain imaging studies of both early and adult (to distinguish from late ie elderly) onset populations indicate that progressive brain changes are more dynamic than previously thought, with gray matter volume loss particularly striking in adolescence and appearing to be an exaggeration of the normal developmental pattern. This supports an extended time period of abnormal neurodevelopment in schizophrenia in addition to earlier ‘lesions’. Many subtle cognitive, motor, and behavioral deviations are seen years before illness onset, and these are more prominent in early onset cases. Moreover, schizophrenia susceptibility genes and chromosomal abnormalities, particularly as examined for early onset populations (ie GAD1, 22q11DS), are associated with premorbid neurodevelopmental abnormalities. Several candidate genes for schizophrenia (eg dysbindin) are associated with lower cognitive abilities in both schizophrenic and other pediatric populations more generally. Postmortem human brain and developmental animal studies document multiple and diverse effects of developmental genes (including schizophrenia susceptibility genes), at sequential stages of brain development. These may underlie the broad array of premorbid cognitive and behavioral abnormalities seen in schizophrenia, and neurodevelopmental disorders more generally. Increased specificity for the most relevant environmental risk factors such as exposure to prenatal infection, and their interaction with susceptibility genes and/or action through phase-specific altered gene expression now both strengthen and modify the neurodevelopmental theory of schizophrenia.
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We thank Richard Straub and Aaron Bobb for helpful comments on this manuscript and Jeff Stathes for editing.
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Rapoport, J., Addington, A., Frangou, S. et al. The neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia: update 2005. Mol Psychiatry 10, 434–449 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.mp.4001642
- brain imaging
- gene expression
- genetics of development
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