Atypicality of Atypical Antipsychotics



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Objective: To review the current definition of atypicality, discuss the unique features of each atypical antipsychotic, and determine whether the available drugs in this class really meet the classical definition of atypicality.

Data Sources: A PubMed search was conducted to identify literature on the subject of this review, supported by additional articles based on the author's clinical knowledge and experience.

Study Selection and Data Extraction: Relevant references were extracted and summarized in order to meet the objective of the article.

Data Synthesis: Atypical antipsychotics are considered a major advance over conventional antipsychotics, primarily because they offer effective treatment alternatives that are relatively free of extrapyramidal symptoms. In fact, the term atypicality was originally used to describe antipsychotic agents with a minimal risk of causing extrapyramidal symptoms. However, over the years the definition has been modified such that there is currently no consensus on a true definition of atypicality for these agents. Each of the atypical antipsychotics (clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone, and aripiprazole) commercially available in the United States is unique in terms of its pharmacologic profile, differing with respect to receptor-binding affinity, mechanism of action, and adverse events. Of the available atypical antipsychotics, clozapine and quetiapine have shown the lowest propensity to cause extrapyramidal symptoms. Although the risk of extrapyramidal symptoms is lower with risperidone and olanzapine than with conventional antipsychotics, risk increases with dose escalation. Data for ziprasidone indicate that the risk of extrapyramidal symptoms may be similar to that of risperidone and olanzapine. There is a concern of akathisia with aripiprazole; however, more experience with this agent is needed before definitive conclusions are made.

Conclusion: If the definition of "atypical" antipsychotic is considered to be freedom from extrapyramidal symptoms, then, based on a comprehensive review of available data and clinical experience, clozapine and quetiapine appear to be the only true atypicals.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2005;7(6):268-274