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Neuroscience for the Mental Health Clinician, Second Edition


Author: Steven R. Pliszka MD

Publisher: The Guilford Press


Publish Date: August 22, 2016

ISBN-10: 1462527116

Pages: 320

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

The first edition of Neuroscience for the Mental Health Clinician was published in 2003, just after the close of the National Institute of Mental Health’s “Decade of the Brain.” The U.S. Congress declared that “to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research, the Congress, by House Joint Resolution 174, has designated the decade beginning January 1, 1990, as the Decade of the Brain and has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this occasion.” The 1990s saw the emergence of neuroimaging and genetics as tools for research into mental disorders, and the first edition hinted at what might be on the horizon. I discussed dopamine genes for attentiondeficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which regions of the brain might be involved in ADHD or affective disorder, and how psychopharmacological agents might exert their therapeutic effects. I mapped out hypothetical pathways of disease which, I hoped, would prove to be representative of the major mental disorders studied.

With the second edition, it is astonishing to see how much has changed in a little over a decade. Indeed, one only has to look at the 1990s-style webpage of the Decade of the Brain ( and compare it to the webpage of the Human Connectome Project (www.humanconnectomeproject. org) to see the new, incredible breadth of contemporary brain research. If you have not heard of the Human Connectome Project, then you should wonder whether you might be as outdated as an old Compaq PC. Of course, you might fairly retort, “What does it matter?” After all, did the Decade of the Brain really produce any clinically relevant information? Are we now just looking at fancier websites? Perhaps, in 10 years we will be saying that the Connectome Project has been a big disappointment. Why not just wait to learn about these things until someone discovers their true clinical relevance?

Before answering this question, I would like to give my personal perspective. My career has been unusual in that I have always been a practicing psychiatrist in addition to my research activities. When I began my academic career in the mid-1980s, I was primarily interested in ADHD itself. I joined other researchers who focused on finding “deficits” in norepinephrine or dopamine brain systems. Why the focus on these two chemicals? Because stimulant medications, the principal treatment for ADHD, blocked their uptake into neurons. We sought the answer by measuring the metabolites of norepinephrine and dopamine in urine (a technique that seems quaint in retrospect), but no clear result emerged. As I entered the field, I was responsible for developing the clinical ADHD program in our Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. I saw 10–15 children with ADHD a week, either on my own or as a supervisor for our psychiatry residents. Many of these children and their families would go on to participate in my first research studies. I began to notice that many of these children with ADHD had anxiety disorders as well. This presented a problem: It was believed by clinicians at the time that these disorders were opposites of one another and that stimulant treatment made anxiety worse. Moreover, norepinephrine was believed to be elevated in anxiety. So how could ADHD and anxiety coexist if ADHD was caused by norepinephrine being too low and anxiety was caused by increased norepinephrine? Trying to answer this question set me on the study of comorbidity of other disorders with ADHD. Today, it is well accepted that ADHD is frequently comorbid with a wide range of psychiatric conditions (Biederman, Newcorn, & Sprich, 1991; Pliszka, 2009). It was my inquiry into the role of norepinephrine in behavior that led me to appreciate that each diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was not a stand-alone entity. Thus, I was able to expand my view of the disorder and the reach of treatment. By becoming more up to date in one’s understanding of where neurobiology currently stands, it is possible to gain greater insight into the needs of one’s patients.

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