The mechanism of action of novel antipsychotic drugs

Herbert Y. Meltzer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

360 Scopus citations


It is no longer tenable to attribute all the antipsychotic action of antipsychotic drugs to dopamine (DA) D2 receptor blockade and subsequent development of depolarization inactivation of the mesolimbic or mesocortical DA neurons. The chief evidence for this position is that clozapine (CLOZ) does not differ from typical antipsychotic drugs in these regards but is more effective than typical neuroleptic drugs. The mechanism of action of atypical antipsychotic drugs related to CLOZ may involve reduction of dopaminergic activity in the mesolimbic system by a variety of mechanisms, including D1 and D2 receptor blockade. Relatively higher affinity for the serotonin (5HT)2 receptor than for the D2 receptor may also be important to the action of CLOZ-like compounds. Enhanced DA release in the mesocortical system may be relevant to the effectiveness of these agents in treating negative symptoms. Several other classes of new agents alter the dopaminergic system by means of alternative mechanisms. Partial DA agonists may modulate DA neurotransmission more adequately than pure antagonists by producing a mix of direct agonist and antagonistic effects. DA autoreceptor agonists and 5HT3 antagonists appear to act by diminishing the release of DA from some, but not all, DA neurons. Substituted benzamides are "pure" D2 antagonists with some in vivo selectivity for limbic D2 over striatal D2 receptors. Highly selective D1 antagonists have been proposed to produce equivalent antipsychotic activity and fewer extrapyramidal symptoms than D2 antagonists. Antagonists of the recently identified D3 receptors are being sought. Excessive stimulation of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of the glutamate receptor, leading to neurotoxicity or diminished activation of this receptor, is the target of novel approaches to treating schizophrenia. Phencyclidine (PCP) antagonists that would activate the NMDA receptor and sigma receptor antagonists are of interest as antipsychotic agents. Therapeutic strategies for treating schizophrenia, schizophrenia-related disorders, and other psychoses will likely be genuinely diverse in the next decade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-287
Number of pages25
JournalSchizophrenia bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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