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How do antipsychotic medications work?

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Anti­psychotic medications work by blocking a dopamine receptor called the D2 receptor, explains HeretoHelp, a project of BC Partners. Research indicates that D2, along with the dopamine receptor D1, is linked to drug addiction, schizophrenia and social relationships, according to author Kayt Sukel for The Dana Foundation.

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Actions, thoughts and emotions are controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters, notes HeretoHelp. Neurotransmitters travel between the different parts of the brain using nerve cells called neurons. Neurons have receptors, and when neurotransmitters act on receptors, they produce effects that impact functions such as memory, emotion, voluntary movement of muscles, appetite and temperature regulation.

Neuropsychiatric disease can result from having too many or too few receptors in the brain. This is why researchers try to target these receptors as a potential avenue for drug treatments, according to Sukel, such as anti­psychotic drugs blocking the D2 receptor.

The most recent group of anti­psychotic drugs on the market block the D2 receptors as well as a specific subtype of serotonin receptor, the 5HT2A receptor, states HeretoHelp. Researchers believe this combined action at the two receptors will improve the overall treatment of illnesses such as schizophrenia. As of 2007, the new anti­psychotic drugs were available in Canada.

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