Autoimmune phenotypes in schizophrenia reveal novel treatment targets

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Typical and atypical antipsychotics are the first-line treatments for schizophrenia, but these classes of drugs are not universally effective, and they can have serious side effects that impact compliance. Antipsychotic drugs generally target the dopamine pathways with some variation. As research of schizophrenia pathophysiology has shifted away from a strictly dopamine-centric focus, the development of new pharmacotherapies has waned. A field of inquiry with centuries-old roots is gaining traction in psychiatric research circles and may represent a new frontier for drug discovery in schizophrenia. At the forefront of this investigative effort is the immune system and its many components, pathways and phenotypes, which are now known to actively engage the brain. Studies in schizophrenia reveal an intricate association of environmentally-driven immune activation in concert with a disrupted genetic template. A consistent conduit through this gene-environmental milieu is the gut-brain axis, which when dysregulated can generate pathological autoimmunity. In this review, we present epidemiological and biochemical evidence in support of an autoimmune component in schizophrenia and depict gut processes and a dysbiotic microbiome as a source and perpetuator of autoimmune dysfunction in the brain. Within this framework, we review the role of infectious agents, inflammation, gut dysbioses and autoantibody propagation on CNS pathologies such as neurotransmitter receptor hypofunction and complement pathway-mediated synaptic pruning. We then review the new pharmacotherapeutic horizon and novel agents directed to impact these pathological conditions. At the core of this discourse is the understanding that schizophrenia is etiologically and pathophysiologically heterogeneous and thus its treatment requires individualized attention with disease state variants diagnosed with objective biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-198
Number of pages15
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Autoantigens
  • Immunity
  • Intestinal
  • Microbiome
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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