Dopamine Sensitivity a Result of Psychosis, Not a Risk Factor For It

Dopamine function and sensitivity is often heightened in people who experience psychosis, particularly those with schizophrenia. Elevated dopamine sensitivity has long been seen as a risk factor for a psychotic episode. But little research has examined if dopamine sensitivity is elevated in individuals who have a first degree relative with schizophrenia, although they themselves exhibit no signs of the illness. Because family members of a schizophrenic individual have an 80% chance of developing schizophrenia, this trait could be an important indicator to identify those at highest risk for psychotic symptoms prior to full onset of the illness. To address this issue, P. Shotbolt of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at the Hammersmith Hospital of the Imperial College in London conducted a study to see if close relatives of schizophrenic clients exhibited the same levels of dopamine function sensitivity as their family members who were receiving medication for the illness.

Shotbolt examined the 18F DOPA uptake in healthy fraternal and identical twin members whose co-twins had schizophrenia and were currently stable. He compared the dopamine functioning levels of the co-twins to those of 10 healthy fraternal twin pairs and found that the co-twins of the schizophrenic participants had normal levels of 18F DOPA, thus indicating no elevations in their dopamine function sensitivity. There was no difference in these findings regardless of whether the twins were identical or fraternal. Additionally, the schizophrenic twins, all of whom were stable and receiving medication, also showed no abnormal increases in dopamine sensitivity. Therefore, Shotbolt believes that these results reveal an important finding related to dopamine sensitivity in individuals at risk for or diagnosed with schizophrenia. Shotbolt said, “One possible interpretation of these findings is that elevated dopamine synthesis capacity is linked to the development of psychotic symptoms rather than a vulnerability to psychosis per se.” To further support this hypothesis, the well twins were evaluated an average of 15 years after their twin siblings had developed schizophrenia, thus decreasing the likelihood of symptom development. In conclusion, Shotbolt thinks that these results will be clinically significant in further exploring psychosis in clients with schizophrenia.

Shotbolt, P., Stokes, P. R., Owens, S. F., Toulopoulou, T., Picchioni, M. M., Bose, S. K., Murray, R. M., Howes, O. D. Striatal Dopamine Synthesis Capacity in Twins Discordant for Schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine 41.1 (2011): 2331-338. Print.

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  • pete drew

    pete drew

    February 16th, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    with all the confusion and conflicting reports coming in every few days,people are left wondering what study to believe and what not to.I for one certainly feel that way!

  • danna rose

    danna rose

    February 16th, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    Sometimes it is so hard to determine what comes first, one thing or another. It is great to hear that researchers have finally pinpointed that the elevated levels are a result and not a cause, that could lead to a good deal of improvement in the ways that schizophrenia and other mental disorders are not just diagnosed but also in the way and methods that they are treated. Good job!

  • WA


    February 17th, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    DOpamine sensitivity can play a big role actually but many people do not know that.Theres a lot of hormonal and even physical thing happening in our brain when it comes to dopamine.

    and really,whether it is a result of or reason for psychosis is not really important,what matters is how it affects us.

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