‘Salience syndrome’ replaces ‘schizophrenia’ in DSM-V and ICD-11: psychiatry’s evidence-based entry into the 21st century?


  • J. Van Os

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, South Limburg Mental Health Research and Teaching Network, EURON, Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, the Netherlands and Division of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF, UK
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  • The author is member of the APA DSM-V Psychotic Disorders Work Group. The views expressed are his own. Parts of this article appeared previously in the British Journal of Psychiatry [Van Os, J. (2009) A salience dysregulation syndrome. British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, 101–3]

  • Invited paper

Prof. Dr J. van Os, Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, Maastricht University Medical Centre, P.O. BOX 616 (DRT10) Maastricht, the Netherlands.
E-mail: j.vanos@sp.unimaas.nl


Objective:  Japan was the first country to abandon the 19th century term of ‘mind-splitting disease’ (schizophrenia). Revisions of DSM and ICD are forthcoming. Should the rest of the world follow Japan’s example?

Method:  A comprehensive literature search was carried out in order to review the scientific evidence for the validity, usefulness and acceptability of current concepts of psychotic disorder.

Results:  The discussion about re-classifying and renaming schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders is clouded by conceptual confusion. First, it is often misunderstood as a misguided attempt to change societal stigma instead of an attempt to change iatrogenic stigma occasioned by the use of misleading and mystifying terminology. Second, the debate is misunderstood as purely semantic, whereas in actual fact it is about the core concepts underlying psychiatric nosology. Third, it has been suggested that the debate is political. However, solid scientific evidence pointing to the absence of nosological validity of diagnostic categories lies at the heart of the argument. Fourth, there is confusion about what constitutes a syndrome (a group of symptom dimensions that cluster in different combinations in different people and for which one or more underlying diseases may or may not be found) and a disease (a nosologically valid entity with specific causes, symptoms, treatment and course).

Conclusion:  Scientific evidence favours a syndromal system of classification combining categorical and dimensional representations of psychosis. The concept of ‘salience’ has the potential to make the public recognize psychosis as relating to an aspect of human mentation and experience that is universal. It is proposed to introduce, analogous to the functional-descriptive term ‘Metabolic syndrome’, the diagnosis of ‘Salience syndrome’ to replace all current diagnostic categories of psychotic disorders. Within Salience syndrome, three subcategories may be identified, based on scientific evidence of relatively valid and specific contrasts, named Salience syndrome with affective expression, Salience syndrome with developmental expression and Salience syndrome not otherwise specified.