There are currently two dominant theories as to the etiology of schizophrenia. The most popular postulates abnormal neurotransmitter receptor function within the brain and, to a large extent, concentrates on studying dopamine and serotonin. Although this theory still provides psychiatry with its best tools for dealing with psychosis, namely medications, it has proved sterile ground for developing radical new treatment approaches.
The second most dominant theory is known as the neurodevelopmental hypothesis and concentrates on the way the brain develops during the early months of life. Emphasizing the role of genetics married to environmental conditions, the neurodevelopmental hypothesis is fast gaining credence within the research community. The genetic factor is clear, and the most significant risk factor for individuals developing schizophrenia is having someone within your immediate family who has also been a sufferer. It is also clear that there are deficits in the way those who go on to develop the illness learn language skills and interact as children (Jones et al., 1994). None of this evidence, however, is conclusive and studies have shown that even in identical twins, the concordance rate is only some 40% (Maier & Schwab, 1998) which suggests that substantial environmental factors are operating.
Both hypotheses clearly have something to offer, but present significant challenges when it comes to explaining the way schizophrenia arises and develops. Lately, however, a new hypothesis has begun to be developed that has the potential to bring together both existing theories to create a new and exciting totality.
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