Neurotrophins are growth factors that, through variations in concentration and changes in receptor expression, regulate the formation of axons and dendrites during development and throughout adult life. Here we review these growth factors, particularly in the context of schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder characterized by neurodevelopmental abnormalities. We first discuss emerging information derived from physiologically relevant organotypic cultures and in vivo studies regarding the effects of neurotrophins on the neuronal structure including pruning and GABAergic neurons. We then review postmortem studies of neurotrophin levels and their receptors in brains of individuals with schizophrenia, and compare them with what is known about neurotrophin effects on neuronal structure. This comparison indicates that only some neuropathological defects encountered in patients with schizophrenia can be explained by the single action of neurotrophins on dendrites and axons. However, we propose that a number of inconsistent findings and apparently unrelated results in the schizophrenia field can be reconciled if neurons are considered structurally plastic cells capable of extending and retracting dendrites and axons throughout life.
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