This review of the literature suggests that antipsychotic drug response is determined by dopamine (DA) turnover and norepinephrine (NE) activity prior to treatment. The data suggest that NE modulates the DA system. Drug-free psychotic patients with relatively increased DA and NE activity, including release, are more likely to be treatment responsive, while patients who show evidence of enhanced DA and NE activity during treatment with antipsychotic drugs are likely to relapse soon after neuroleptic withdrawal. Basal release of DA and NE is decreased and associated with residual positive and negative symptoms. Improvement during neuroleptic treatment is associated with decreases in DA and NE phasic or stimulus induced release. The variable response to antipsychotic drugs is most likely to be a result of dysregulated DA and NE release, i.e. under state-dependent control, rather than evidence of a heterogeneous aetiology. Because catecholamines regulate gain, signal-to-noise ratio and gating in the brain, this model allows for environmental factors to interact with biochemical state and drug treatment. The author proposes that impaired homeostasis of NE and DA in schizophrenia causes instability in NE and DA neuronal firing and release, presumably related to mechanisms down-stream from the receptors, such as G proteins. This instability of catecholamine release may explain the observed variability in clinical states and drug response in schizophrenia.