Epidemiology-driven neurodevelopmental animal models of schizophrenia

Urs Meyer*, Joram Feldon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

313 Scopus citations


Human epidemiological studies have provided compelling evidence that the risk of developing schizophrenia is significantly enhanced following prenatal and/or perinatal exposure to various environmental insults, including maternal exposure to stress, infection and/or immune activation, nutritional deficiencies and obstetric complications. Based on these associations, a great deal of interest has been centered upon the establishment of neurodevelopmental animal models which are based on prenatal and/or perinatal exposure to such environmental stimuli. In the present review, we describe this relatively novel class of epidemiology-based animal models in relation to the etiology, neurobiology and psychopharmacology of schizophrenia. Thereby, we discuss the general design and practical implementation of these models, and we provide an integrative summary of experimental findings derived from diverse epidemiology-based models, including models of maternal exposure to psychological stress, glucocorticoid treatment, viral infection, immune activating agents, protein deprivation, vitamin D deficiency, as well as models of obstetric complications in the form of birth by Caesarian section and perinatal/postnatal hypoxia. We highlight that the long-term consequences of prenatal exposure to these environmental challenges in animals successfully capture a broad spectrum of structural and functional brain abnormalities implicated in schizophrenia, some of which can be normalized by acute and/or chronic antipsychotic drug treatment. We thus conclude that epidemiology-driven neurodevelopmental models of schizophrenia are characterized by a high level of face, construct and predictive validity, including intrinsic etiological significance to the disorder. They also fulfill the expectation of the neurodevelopmental theory, such that the effects of prenatal environmental insults often only emerge after puberty. Epidemiologically based animal models not only provide indispensable experimental tools to test the hypothesis of causality in human epidemiological associations, but they also offer important new avenues for the elucidation of neurobiological, neuroendocrine and neuroimmunological mechanisms involved in the etiopathogenesis of schizophrenia and related disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-326
Number of pages42
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Zurich— 11 07/03
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung3100AO-100309, 3100A0-116719
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich


    • Animal model
    • Cognition
    • Cytokines
    • Dopamine
    • GABA
    • Glucocorticoids
    • Glutamate
    • Immune system
    • Infection
    • Obstetric complications
    • Prevention
    • Protein deprivation
    • Psychosis
    • Stress
    • Vitamin D


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