NARSAD Grants Supporting Breakthroughs: Researching Circuitry of the Brain

Brain and behavior disorders are increasingly considered to be caused by

altered functioning in the circuitry of the brain. Now known to be a vast

and sophisticated network, the circuitry of the brain has proven elusive

for scientists attempting to understand its language and correct its

dysfunction. A great step forward was made in 2005 when Karl Deisseroth,

M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University used his NARSAD Young Investigator

Grant to invent optogenetics. Optogenetics is a new technology that uses

light to make neurons fire one at a time, giving researchers extraordinary

control over specific brain circuits in living animals. Thanks to

optogenetics, neuroscientists can go beyond observing correlations between

the activity of neurons and an animals behavior; by turning particular

neurons on or off at will, they can prove that those neurons actually

govern the behavior.


A recent special issue of Biological Psychiatry was dedicated to

understanding the impact of optogenetics on psychiatry. Now in use at over

1,000 laboratories, this method is enabling the identification of the

mechanisms that give rise to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress

disorder and other brain and behavior disorders. Thomas R. Insel, M.D.,

Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, wrote in a commentary

in the publication: Understanding the circuitry underlying mental

disorders is a daunting task but one that becomes more attainable

with each new discovery about the complex circuits involved in behavior.

Optogenetics has revolutionized systems neuroscience by providing precise

control over circuitry in awake, behaving animals. This is the exciting

part of optogeneticsthe control over defined events within defined cell

types at defined times and the ability to observe the resulting behavior

in animalsthat offers a new level of precision necessary to ident

ifying the biology of brain and behavior disorders.


Dr. Deisseroth looks forward in his introductory comments in the special

issue, stating that, Optogenetic tools provide experimental leverage

leading to insights into neural circuit function and dysfunction that are

impossible to establish by other means  this approach must be integrated

well with existing sophisticated psychiatric disease-model research

methods spanning behavior, psychology, imaging, electrophysiology,

pharmacology, and genetics. Additional technologies also need to

be developed further for this approach to reach its full potential.


Study Finds That Avoiding Lies Can Improve Your Health

Researchers instructed half the participants to “refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false.” The other half received no such instructions.

Over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, the study found. When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer minor lies than they did in other weeks, for example, they experienced, on average, four fewer mental-health complaints and three fewer physical complaints. Mental health complaints included feeling tense or melancholy; physical complaints included sore throats and headaches.

Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University in Chicago, says findings are consistent with her own research on trust. “When you find that you don’t lie, you have less stress,” she says. “Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life.”

Evidence from past research suggests that Americans average about 11 lies a week. Kelly says the no-lie group participants were down to one lie, on average, per week. For both groups, when participants lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week.

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Sleep Deprivation Affects Anxiety, Food Choices

Two recent studies have revealed further evidence that there are dangers associated with sleep deprivation.

The studies were presented in Boston by researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, headed by Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.

The first study by graduate student Andrea Goldstein looked at fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans of 18 healthy adults. The study suggests that the emotional centers of the brain trigger emotional dysfunction and risk when people are sleep deprived. As well, the more naturally anxious someone is, the more effected and vulnerable they will be by insufficient amounts of sleep. To help keep emotions and anxiety in check, it’s important to get enough shut-eye every day.

The second study looked at food consumption and lack of sleep. Twenty-three healthy adults underwent MRI scans to look at sleep deprivation and food choices. The brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision making and behaviors, was significantly affected by lack of sleep, meaning those who do not get sufficient sleep are more likely to make bad food choices. Graduate student Stephanie Greer was the author of the study, and says the results may reveal a connection between obesity and sleep loss.

 –Magpie Media at Mental Wellness Today

Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation Among Adolescents

This report found that, on an average day in June and July, more than 11,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 use alcohol for the first time—December is the only other month with comparable levels. Throughout the rest of the year, the daily average for first-time alcohol use ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 adolescents. The report is based on SAMHSA’s 2002 to 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Relieve Depression Through Socialization

Researchers from the University College Dublin (UCD) completed a study showing that people who participated in some form of social interaction felt less symptoms of depression.

“This study shows that conventional treatments can be supplemented by social support from family, friends, and the community in the battle against mental health problems,” said Kathleen Lynch, the Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health, and Older People, who officially launched the report findings at UCD. “Increased social interaction helps sufferers to rebuild their self-esteem which in turn enables them to maintain and develop positive relationships and friendships.”

The study showed that by participating in social activities such as engaging in conversation and going to places like the movies, museums, or out for coffee, people with mental illness to felt less isolated, stigmatized, and anxious.

“The evidence from this study is unequivocal,” added Sheridan, a lecturer at the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery, and Health Systems at University College Dublin. “Supporting the development of positive relationships and increasing social activity helps with the treatment of mental health difficulties.”

–Magpie Media at Mental Wellness Today

Does Chronic Stress Affect Depression?

Does chronic stress affect depression? Researchers at Yale University believe chronic stress makes the brain more susceptible to depression by blocking neuritin, “an activity-dependent gene that regulates neuronal plasticity,” and is responsible for protecting the brain from depression.

Not only is neuritin important in preventing depression, it is also essential for normal brain functioning. Yale neurobiologist Ronald Duman and his team said in the June issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “neuritin produces antidepressant actions and blocks the neuronal and behavioral deficits caused by chronic stress.”

Duman and colleagues focused on neuritin in the hippocampus, the part of the brain where memory is formed. As both humans and animals possess neuritin, researchers utilized lab rats, exposing them to high stress levels such as food deprivation, isolation, and confusing day and night schedules to see how their brains reacted to stress.

“They are relatively mild (stressors) individually, but when you do them continuously over time it adds up to a fair amount of stress for the animal,” Duman says. “One of the first things we found was that chronic stress exposure decreased the amounts of this protein called neuritin, which has been linked to [the growth] of neural processes.

–Magpie Media at Mental Wellness Today

What Can Neuroscience Research Tell Us About the Meditative Brain?

There has been a growing interest in meditation practices; they are practiced in multiple forms (with and without movement); and they are used for multiple reasons including enhancing the quality of life, reducing psychological stress, and improving health outcomes. Meditation has been practiced since ancient times as a component of religious traditions and beliefs. There are, however, various styles of meditation practices; all include some training of the mind and self-induction of a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit. Walsh and Shapiro refer to meditation as a “family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration” (2006). In the West, meditation is sometimes thought of in two broad categories: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation, with concentrative meditation being used interchangeably with focused attention (voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object) and mindfulness meditation being used interchangeably with open monitoring (non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment).

–NCCAM Research Blog

How Your Behaviour Affects A Person With Depression

Negative comments from friends and relatives not only lead to emotional pain, but can also cause those with depression to close up and be unwilling to discuss their illness, even with health care professionals, which could impede treatment.

If patients were referred to as “always so serious” by family and friends, or called “sissy” for discussing their feelings, they felt labeled.

Some patients felt judged when friends and family made comments such as “But you’ve got so much to be glad for,” or “You have this, you have that… Why are you so miserable all the time?”

Feelings of judgment were also present when depression was referred to as an inheritance or genetic predisposition, such as, “You inherited from your dad this chemical imbalance.”

Lecturing also had an effect on those with depression—such as when family and friends told them to “Snap out of it” or “Get over it.”

Participants also noted that when they attempted to discuss depression with family and friends, they felt shunned, rejected, and disengaged.

–Magpie Media at Mental Wellness Today

Becoming an Empowered Loved One

Recently I discussed a little about what it means to be an e-patient. An e-patient is someone who is empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled (and many other things depending on who you ask). In short, an e-patient is someone who is fully engaged in making treatment decisions.

Now, I am the first person to say that being an e-patient isn’t always possible for a person with mental illness. Often, dealing with the day-to-day slog that is living with a mental illness is quite enough pressure, thank-you, without having to put an “e” in front of your title.

E-Partners, E-Parents, E-Friends

However, even if becoming an uber-patient isn’t on your shortlist of things to do, your loved ones can also become empowered. They can become e-partners or e-parents or e-friends, if you like. And adding an “e” in front of their title can help them to feel less helpless in the face of a daunting illness that they cannot control.

Getting Involved in Mental Health Treatment

The first thing to do if you’re a loved one of a person with a mental illness is to ask this simple question:

Is there anything I can do to help?

This one question is like a magic trick. It shows that you’re willing to help the person with the mental illness, you’re not judging them and you’re prepared to respect their wishes. It can improve your relationship and support ten-fold. Really.

But beyond that, if it’s OK with the person with the mental illness, you can become a real advocate in the treatment of mental illness. You can become the “knowledge repository” or a person to bounce treatment options off of, or a person that can represent the patient’s wishes in the face of doctors. You can become engaged.

–Natasha Tracy at Bipolar Burble

Read more:

Suicide Risk for Bipolar I and Bipolar II

According to recent studies, patients living with bipolar disorder who have mixed states, melancholic depressive features, or have episodes with multiple antidepressant treatments, have a heightened risk of suicide.

“This study…underscores the growing impression that bipolar II disorder patients have high levels of morbidity, disability, and mortality,” says Ross Baldessarini and colleagues from the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

BD-I diagnosis presented more psychiatric hospitalizations in a year, as well as higher unemployment. BD-II was associated significantly with depressive polarity and lifetime recurrences.

Research also revealed that regardless of the type of bipolar disorder, factors significantly associated with suicide risk included a greater number of mixed states per year, melancholic features, and more antidepressant trials.

“The present observations support the impression that suicidal risks are not lower among bipolar II than in bipolar I patients, and that BD-II is not a milder or attenuated variant of BD-I,” the researchers said.

–Magpie Media at Mental Wellness Today