Social NeuroscienceHow a Multidisciplinary Field Is Uncovering the Biology of Human Interactions
Social neuroscientists boost our knowledge of the biology of animal and human interactions in areas as diverse as drug abuse, pair-bonding, and social isolation. As the field continues to grow, we will better understand the social, biological, and cognitive factors that determine how we relate to others.
OptogeneticsUsing Light to Control the Brain
In 2004, scientists, including author Edward S. Boyden, Ph.D., found that the neural expression of a protein, channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), allowed light to activate or silence brain cells. This technology, now known as optogenetics, is helping scientists determine the functions of specific neurons in the brain, and could play a significant role in treating medical issues as diverse as sleep disorders and vision impairment.
Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain
Early-life stress can lead to long-lasting behavioral, mental, and physical consequences. Fortunately, preventive measures can improve health outcomes, and while interventions for those who have already experienced debilitating early-life stress require considerable effort, they remain possible, thanks to the brain’s plasticity. Complementary article to "From Lab Bench to Court Bench."
From Lab Bench to Court BenchUsing Science to Inform Decisions in Juvenile Court
Juvenile court judges are asked to determine what is in the best interest of the child in every case they hear. Until about a decade ago, court decisions were routinely made without taking into consideration the needs of toddlers and infants. The Miami Child Well-Being Court™ (MCWBC) program, a partnership of clinicians and judges, has brought science into the courtroom, making it integral to the decision-making process and working to ensure that the needs of the child are met. Complementary article to "Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain"
Using Brain Imaging to Unravel the Mysteries of Stuttering
While researchers have made great strides in understanding stuttering in adults, the neural basis of stuttering in children largely remains a mystery. We do not yet know why up to 80 percent of children who stutter recover without intervention, nor do we know how to distinguish those who will recover without intervention from those who will not. However, recent findings support the idea that early intervention can alter or normalize brain function before stuttering-induced changes become hardwired.
Designing a Plan for Drug Discovery in Rare Pediatric Neurodegenerative Disease
There are currently no cures for neurodegenerative diseases, including Batten disease, a rare and fatal disorder affecting young children. While researchers have made headway in preventing genetic disorders through preconception carrier screenings and have found potential drug targets, the gap between basic research and clinical treatment development remains. To overcome this gap, researchers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry, supported by government agencies and nonprofit institutions, must come together to share expertise and promote translational research.
Promoting Healthy, Meaningful Aging Through Social InvolvementBuilding an Experience Corps
Pathways responsible for higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), or executive center of the brain, remain vulnerable throughout life—during critical early-life developmental windows, when the PFC fully matures in the early 20s, and finally from declines associated with old age. At all ages, physical activity and PFC-navigated social connections are essential components to maintaining brain health. The Experience Corps, a community-based social-engagement program, partners seniors with local schools to promote purpose-driven involvement. Participating seniors have exhibited immediate short-term gains in brain regions vulnerable to aging, such as the PFC, indicating that people with the most to lose have the most to gain from environmental enrichment.
Epigenetics and the Human BrainWhere Nurture Meets Nature
While our genetic code determines a great deal of who and what we are, it does not act alone. It depends heavily on the epigenome, an elaborate marking of the DNA that controls the genome’s functions. Because it is sensitive to the environment, the epigenome is a powerful link and relay between our genes and our surroundings. Epigenetic marks drive biological functions and features as diverse as memory, development, and disease susceptibility; thus, the nurture aspect of the nature/nurture interaction makes essential contributions to our body and behaviors. As scientists have learned more about how the epigenome works, they have begun to develop therapies that may lead to new approaches to treating common human conditions.
Diagnosing the DSMDiagnostic Classification Needs Fundamental Reform
If all goes as planned, the American Psychiatric Association will release a new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013. But, argues Dr. Steven Hyman, the DSM is a poor mirror of clinical and biological realities; a fundamentally new approach to diagnostic classification is needed as researchers uncover novel ways to study and understand mental illness.
Cross-Cultural Barriers to Mental Health Services in the United States
Getting treatment for a mental illness can be difficult for anyone. But for members of ethnic and racial minority groups, the road to treatment is often blocked by cultural views of mental illness and therapy, lack of insurance and access to appropriate care, and a critical deficiency of studies pertaining to nonwhite populations. Significant changes to the mental health field must be made in order for proper care to be widely available and accepted.