Objective: At therapeutic doses, classical antipsychotic drugs occupy a large proportion of subcortical dopamine D2 receptors, whereas atypical antipsychotics preferentially occupy cortical 5-HT2 receptors. However, the exact cellular and network basis of their therapeutic action is not fully understood.
Method: To review the mechanism of action of antipsychotic drugs with a particular emphasis on their action in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
Results: The PFC controls a large number of higher brain functions altered in schizophrenia. Histological studies indicate the presence of a large proportion of PFC neurons expressing monoaminergic receptors sensitive to the action of atypical- and to a lesser extentclassical antipsychotic drugs. Functional studies also indicate that both drug families act at PFC level.
Conclusion: Atypical antipsychotic drugs likely exert their therapeutic activity by a preferential action on PFC neurons, thus modulating the PFC output to basal ganglia circuits. Classical antipsychotics also interact with these PFC targets in addition to blocking massively striatal D2 receptors.