As quantitative neuroimaging continues to elucidate the gross neuropathology of schizophrenia, neurochemical and histological studies have contributed to defining this pathology in terms of neurotransmitter dysfunction. Increasingly, there is evidence implicating neurons containing the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain — gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Benes was the first to demonstrate deficits in some morphological subtypes of interneurons in the frontal cortex in schizophrenia. We identified that this was specific to a subgroup of GABAergic interneurons containing parvalbumin (PV), which is found in the fast-firing cells providing inhibitory control of the cortico-fugal pyramidal cells. PV is notable in being expressed late in development; the late expression of this protective calcium binding protein (CBP) may impart an early vulnerability to these neurons, indicating a possible mechanism for the developmental origins of schizophrenia.
Cortical GABAergic neurons expressing the CBP calretinin (CR) are unaffected in schizophrenia, although those containing calbindin (CB) are also diminished in number. These deficits in PV and CB are notable in also being observed in bipolar disorder, indicating how the close aetiological relationship of these two psychiatric disorders is reflected in their pathology.
One of the most substantial abnormalities seen in post-mortem brain tissue is the hippocampal deficit of PV-containing neurons, again in the absence of effects on CR-positive cells. This deficit occurring in a structure implicated in cognitive symptomatology may well have functional relevance, and we find it can be induced by a model of the disease, subchronic phencyclidine (PCP) administration, that can also produce cognitive disturbances. This PCP model, like schizophrenia, demonstrates other neurochemical changes which include indicators of glutamatergic dysfunction. The temporal and aetiological relationships between glutamatergic and GABAergic deficits remains unclear, but may well relate to an initial loss/dysfunction of GABA/PV neurons that subsequently gives rise to a glutamatergic pathology.