The term “neuroleptic” first appeared in 1955 in the title of Jean Delay and Pierre Deniker’s paper, “Hibernothérapies et cures neuroleptiques en psychiatrie”, published in the Bulletin of the National Academy of Medicine (Paris) for the designation of a new class of drugs. By introducing the term, Delay and Deniker linked the specific therapeutic activity of this new class of drugs to particular neurological effects. The term reappeared in the title of the International Colloquium on Chlorpromazine and Neuroleptic Drugsin Psychiatric Treatment, held in Paris from October 20 to 22 in the same year. At the First International Symposium on Psychotropic Drugs held in May 1957 in Milan, “neuroleptics” were defined by Delay and Deniker as drugs which (i) induce a “psycholeptic state  without hypnotic effect (i.e., indifference, affective and emotional neutrality), and decrease initiative and motor activity  without gross alteration of  vigilance and cognitive functions; (ii) control (treat) excitation, aggressiveness  and agitation in manic  and psychotic patients; (iii) improve (decrease) acute  and chronic psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions), ameliorate deficit symptoms of schizophrenia and control the symptoms  induced by psychodysleptics; iv. induce neurovegetative and neurological  side effects; and (v) exert  their action at sub-cortical level (brain stem reticular formation, diencephalon) (Crocq and Macher 2006). The definition includes their description of the effects of chlorpromazine published in 1952 in a paper coauthored by Harl (Delay, Deniker and Harl 1952). The criteria were simplified in 1961 in their monograph, Méthodes Chimiothérapiques en Psychiatrie, in which to qualify for a neuroleptic, therapeutic effects in psychoses associated with neurological signs sufficed (Delay and Deniker 1961). It was this simple definition of neuroleptics that was adopted in 1967 in Number 371 of the Technical Report Series of the World Health Organization (WHO).


Crocq M-A, Macher J-P. The history of psychotropic drugs in France. In: TA, Healy D, Shorter E, editors. Reflections on Twentieth-Century Psychopharmacology. Budapest: Animula; 2006, pp. 124-32. 

Delay J, Deniker P. Hibernothérapies et cures neuroleptiques en psychiatrie.. Bull Acad Nat Med (Paris) 1955; 139: 145-7.

Delay J, Deniker P. Caracteristiques psychophysiologiques des medicaments neuroleptiques. In: Garattini S, Ghetti V, editors. Psychotropic Drugs. Amsyerdam:Elevier; 1957.pp. 485-501.

Delay J, Deniker P. Méthodes Chimiothérapiques en Psychiatrie. Paris; Masson et Cie; 1961, p.14

Delay J, Deniker P, Harl JM. Traitement des états d’excitation et d’agitation par une méthode médicamenteuse dérivee de le hibernothérapie. Ann Medicopsychol (Paris) 1952; 110: 267-73.

International Colloquium on Chlorpromazine and Neuroleptic Drugs in Psychiatric Treatment, Paris; 20-22 October 1955 Encephale 1956; 45: 301-1266.

World Health Organization. Research in Psychophamacology. Technical Report Series371. Geneva: WHO; 1967.


Thomas A. Ban

January 16, 2014.

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