Postmortem studies in psychiatry

H. S. Bracha, J. E. Kleinman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although biopsy material and in vivo neurochemical probes, such as positron emission tomography, offer alternative approaches, postmortem examination of the brain may never be completely replaced as a research tool in the study of neurologic and psychiatric diseases. This article discusses the advantage and disadvantages of this approach as well as some of the findings in neuropsychiatric illnesses. When considering the schizophrenic syndrome, one is struck by the number of positive findings. Unfortunately, most are not replicated. In addition confounding treatment effects of neuroleptics may account for many, if not all, of these findings. Nevertheless, one finds support here for the hypotheses that involve catecholamines and peptides in schizophrenic symptomatology. The problem is much the same with affective disorders and suicide. Nevertheless, most of the evidence may favor some disorder of the 5-HT system, probably at the receptor level. Perhaps the most significant 'breakthrough' in postmortem neurochemistry is in Alzheimer disease, in which the dementia and the decreased cholinergic activity appears related to the loss of cholinergic neurons from the nucleus basalis of Meynert. The findings in victims of suicide make one wonder if borderline personality disorder is not another worthwhile group to examine. Eating disorders and panic disorders may also warrant examination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-485
Number of pages13
JournalPsychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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