In addition to their neurochemical effects, antipsychotic (neuroleptic) drugs produce structural brain changes. This property is relevant not only for understanding the drugs' mode of action, but because it complicates morphological studies of schizophrenia. Here the histological neuropathological effects of antipsychotics are reviewed, together with brief mention of those produced by other treatments sometimes used in schizophrenia (electroconvulsive shock, lithium and antidepressants). Most data come from drug-treated rats, though there are also some human post-mortem studies with broadly congruent findings. The main alteration associated with antipsychotic medication concerns the ultrastructure and proportion of synaptic subpopulations in the caudate nucleus. In rats, synapses and dendrites in lamina VI of the prefrontal cortex are also affected. The changes are indicative of a drug-induced synaptic plasticity, although the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Similarly, it is unclear whether the neuropathological features relate primarily to the therapeutic action of antipsychotics or, more likely, to their predisposition to cause tardive dyskinesia and other motor side-effects. Clozapine seems to cause lesser and somewhat different alterations than do typical antipsychotics, albeit based on few data. There is no good evidence that antipsychotics cause neuronal loss or gliosis, nor that they promote neurofibrillary tangle formation or other features of Alzheimer's disease.
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Alzheimer Disease, Animals, Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation, Antipsychotic Agents, Caudate Nucleus, Clozapine, Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced, Humans, Neuronal Plasticity, Rats, Schizophrenia