PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Schizophrenia is a heterogeneous psychiatric disorder with a different, but not necessarily milder clinical presentation in women as compared to men. These sex differences have largely been attributed to the protective role of estrogens. This article reviews the current state of estrogen research in schizophrenia.
RECENT FINDINGS: Estrogens regulate important pathophysiological pathways in schizophrenia, including dopamine activity, mitochondrial function, and the stress system. Estrogen deficiency is common in both sexes and is associated with increases in psychotic symptoms. Hyperprolactinemia causes secondary estrogen deficiency and can be a reaction to stress, or secondary to prolactin-raising antipsychotics. Therefore, prolactin-sparing antipsychotics should be preferred especially in premenopausal women, who are more prone to hyperprolactinemia. Premenopausal women furthermore require lower doses of antipsychotics than men, since estrogens raise the availability and efficacy of antipsychotics.
SUMMARY: The past years have established the importance of estrogens in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and have shown its relevance to clinical practice through its influence on antipsychotic drug efficacy. Future research should focus on the neurobiological and clinical effect of contraceptives in premenopausal women with schizophrenia. Furthermore, the potential of estrogen-like augmentation with raloxifene and phytoestrogens in schizophrenia should be established in the coming years.