Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of Psychopharmacology (2016), 22 pp. DOI: 10.1177/0269881116654697


Open access; Creative Commons licensed.


Antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance refer to the increased and decreased drug effects due to past drug use, respectively. Both effects reflect the long-term impacts of antipsychotic treatment on the brain and result from the brain’s adaptive response to the foreign property of the drug. In this review, clinical evidence of the behavioral aspect of antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance is selectively reviewed, followed by an overview of preclinical literature that examines these behavioral characteristics and the related pharmacological and nonpharmacological factors. Next, recent work on the developmental impacts of adolescent antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance is presented and recent research that delineates the neurobiological mechanisms of antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance is summarized. A theoretical framework based on “drug learning and memory” principles is proposed to account for the phenomena of antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance. It is maintained that antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance follow basic principles of learning or acquisition (“induction”) and memory (“expression”). The induction and expression of both effects reflect the consequences of associative and nonassociative processing and are strongly influenced by various pharmacological, environmental, and behavioral factors. Drug-induced neuroplasticity, such as functional changes of striatal dopamine D2 and prefrontal serotonin (5-HT)2A receptors and their mediated signaling pathways, in principle, is responsible for antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance. Understanding the behavioral characteristics and neurobiological underpinnings of antipsychotic sensitization and tolerance has greatly enhanced our understanding of mechanisms of antipsychotic action, and may have important implications for future drug discovery and clinical practice.

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