The Biochemistry of Schizophrenia

  • J R Smythies


For many years there have been two schools of thought concerning the aetiology of Schizophrenia. Some psychiatrists have been impressed by the disturbed family relationships and early upbringing that is commonly seen in cases of schizophrenia and have felt that the condition is largely psychogenic: that is that anyone subjected to these malign influences would develop the disease. Other psychiatrists have felt that schizophrenia results from a genetically determined metabolic disorder and that the disturbed behaviour results from a brain with specific faults in its biochemical mechanism.


Two recent studies of what happens to the children of schizophrenic mothers who have been removed from their mothers shortly after birth and reared in foster homes have provided powerful, and I believe conclusive, evidence in favour of the latter view. This work was carried out by Heston in Oregon and by Rosenthal and Kety in Denmark.  The results showed that these children in foster families nevertheless developed schizophrenia at the same rate (about 12% — as compared with the normal expectancy of 0.8%) as do the children of one schizophrenic parent reared by their biological mother.  A control group of adopted children of normal mothers reared in similar foster homes showed no increased incidence.  Then the foster families in which these children actually developed schizophrenia were compared with those in which the children remained normal, and no difference could be detected between them. Both lots appeared to be ordinary families. Thus what counts for the development of schizophrenia appears to be the genes and not the early family environment.

How to Cite
Smythies, J. (1). The Biochemistry of Schizophrenia. Res Medica, 6(6).