Calcium-binding proteins (CBPs) such as calbindin, parvalbumin and calretinin are used as immunohistochemical markers for discrete neuronal subpopulations. They are particularly useful in identifying the various subpopulations of GABAergic interneurons that control output from prefrontal and cingulate cortices as well as from the hippocampus. The strategic role these interneurons play in regulating output from these three crucial brain regions has made them a focus for neuropathological investigation in schizophrenia. The number of pathological reports detailing subtle changes in these CBP-containing interneurons in patients with schizophrenia is rapidly growing. These proteins however are more than convenient neuronal markers. They confer survival advantages to neurons and can increase the neuron's ability to sustain firing. These properties may be important in the subtle pathophysiology of nondegenerative phenomena such as schizophrenia. The aim of this review is to introduce the reader to the functional properties of CBPs and to examine the emerging literature reporting alterations in these proteins in schizophrenia as well as draw some conclusions about the significance of these findings. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.