Biological psychiatry

Genetic antecedents of dopamine dysfunction in schizophrenia.

PMID 10331106


Relatives of schizophrenic probands frequently manifest attenuated features of this illness including the negative symptoms and the milder positive psychotic symptoms. These two symptom dimensions are hypothesized to be associated with decreased and increased brain dopamine (DA) functions, respectively, raising the possibility that DA abnormalities may be present in the relatives of schizophrenic probands. Plasma homovanillic acid (HVA), the major DA metabolite and an indicator of brain DA activity, was measured in nonpsychotic, physically healthy first-degree relatives (n = 55) of schizophrenic probands and in normal subjects (n = 20) without a family history of schizophrenia. Plasma HVA inversely correlated with negative symptoms and positively correlated with attenuated positive symptoms. Also, relatives had decreased plasma HVA compared to normal subjects, consistent with the fact that these relatives are characterized by negative symptoms. These findings were not related to major peripheral factors that could affect plasma HVA suggesting that the findings may reflect changes in brain DA activity. Negative symptoms indicating a genetic diathesis to schizophrenia in relatives may have a biologic basis in reduced DA activity and the DA dysfunction of schizophrenia may have genetic antecedents. This opens an important new avenue for further study of DA in this illness.