NIMH Director’s Message, Neural Circuits Research: How and Why

Yes, schizophrenia spectrum disorders are neuro-circuitry disorder and NIMH is focused on discovering which neuro-circuits and how to manage them to alleviate symptoms. It would be amazing if this could lead to eradicating schizophrenia spectrum illnesses. Read NIMH Director, Dr. Joshua Gordon’s message.

By Joshua Gordon

I wrote in my welcome message about my priorities. First, we need to fund excellent science. Second, we should support studies that will yield benefits on short, medium, and long-term timescales. I also have three particular areas of interest: neural circuits, computational and theoretical psychiatry, and suicide prevention. Here I will discuss an approach to translating neural circuit technology into novel treatment methods. These studies are an example of a research program with the potential to yield benefits in the medium-term.

“No way this will work.”

That is what I told my grad student, Nancy Padilla-Coreano, when she came to me with an idea. She had just spent the last three years on an experiment aimed at reducing activity in a specific component of a neural circuit we thought was critical for anxiety in mice. This circuit carries information from the hippocampus—a brain area involved in memory—to the prefrontal cortex—an area involved in interpreting information and making decisions. Using a carefully engineered virus, she was able to direct an inhibitory opsin—a protein that responds to light by decreasing neural activity—to the connections between these brain regions. She then used light to activate the opsin and inhibit circuit activity, which reduced anxiety in the mice. Nancy’s next idea was to try stimulating those inputs in a specific pattern, to see if she could increase anxiety instead of decreasing it. “Go ahead,” I said. “But that pattern won’t perfectly mimic brain activity. I’ll bet you it won’t work.” I promised a set of premium audio speakers for the lab if she proved me wrong.

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Can Mental Illness Be Prevented In The Womb?

Every day in the United States, millions of expectant mothers take a prenatal vitamin on the advice of their doctor.

The counsel typically comes with physical health in mind: folic acid to help avoid fetal spinal cord problems; iodine to spur healthy brain development; calcium to be bound like molecular Legos into diminutive baby bones.

But what about a child’s future mental health? Questions about whether ADHD might arise a few years down the road or whether schizophrenia could crop up in young adulthood tend to be overshadowed by more immediate parental anxieties. As a friend with a newborn daughter recently fretted over lunch, “I’m just trying not to drop her!”

Yet much as pediatricians administer childhood vaccines to guard against future infections, some psychiatrists now are thinking about how to shift their treatment-centric discipline toward one that also deals in early prevention.

In 2013, University of Colorado psychiatrist Robert Freedman and colleagues recruited 100 healthy, pregnant women from greater Denver to study whether giving the B vitamin choline during pregnancy would enhance brain growth in the developing fetus.

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New Way of Studying DNA as it’s Bundled in Cells Reveals New Schizophrenia Risk Genes, Daniel Geschwind, Ph.D.

A new study implicates two cellular pathways in schizophrenia risk that haven’t been well supported by genetic evidence before. They involve processes related to the birth of new nerve cells, called neurogenesis, and cell-to-cell signaling by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.

The study, published October 19 in Nature, characterized interactions between genome segments that regulate genes, called regulatory elements, and the genes they regulate – which are often located at distant sites on chromosomes.  This occurs because our genetic material is almost unimaginably compressed inside the nucleus of each of our cells, and twists and turns in the “packaged” form of DNA often brings genes and genome sites that regulate them into close proximity even though they are not adjacent to one another.

The study, whose first author was Hyejung Won of the University of California, Los Angeles, and was led by 1999 NARSAD Young Investigator grantee, 2015 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator grantee, and 2012 Ruane Prizewinner, Daniel Geschwind, Ph.D., of UCLA, revealed that 65% percent of regulatory elements called gene enhancers did not, in fact, interact with adjacent genes as is often assumed. When integrating new data on interactions of genes and regulatory sequences, the team found approximately 500 new candidate risk genes that were previously obscured because of their physical distance on the genome from sites where risk genes themselves are located.  Much more work will need to be done to know which of these 500 genes do in fact impact schizophrenia risk. But prior to the new research, these 500 had not been suspected of having such impact.

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“Where Do Auditory Hallucinations Come From?”- A Brain Morphometry Study of Schizophrenia Patients With Inner or Outer Space Hallucinations

Auditory verbal hallucinations are a cardinal symptom of schizophrenia.  Bleuler and Kraepelin distinguished 2 main classes of hallucinations:  hallucinations heard outside the head (outer space, or external, hallucinations) and hallucinations heard inside the head (inner space, or internal, hallucinations).

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New Report Details Impact of the Affordable Care Act

Millions of Americans have gained coverage, and millions more have had their coverage substantially improved

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of national and state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans in the last six years. The uninsured rate has fallen to the lowest level on record, and 20 million Americans have gained coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But beyond those people who would otherwise be uninsured, millions of Americans with employer, Medicaid, Medicare, or individual market coverage have benefited from new protections as a result of the law.

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Help for people with Schizophrenia and Related Disorders

Now it is easy to record details and specifics about symptoms, medication, moods, and more. Choose what you want to track, and see all the information you need to help you or your loved one who is living with schizophrenia and related disorders. Get the Schizophrenia Health Storylines™ Mobile App Today! The mobile app is FREE for all users on iOS and Android devices. There is also a web version available, accessible through the browser of any desktop computer or mobile device.

What are you doing for your self­care today? With your feedback, Schizophrenia Health Storylines introduces two new health tools to help you track your self­care and physical activities. Self­care goes beyond the pill and we want to make sure your tools reflect that. With the new and improved tools, you will be able to:

 

  • Reflect holistically on your self­care activities with the Self­Care Reflection Tool
  • Track the intensity of your physical activity with the Physical Activity Tracker

NIMH WEBINAR: Mental Health Research: What You Need to Know

On January 23, 2017, 1:00­1:30 PM ET

Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. People volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that may ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease such as mental illnesses. Join Kalene DeHaut, LCSW, of the NIMH for this webinar on clinical research. Learn about the basics of clinical research – what it is, why it’s important, key research concepts, and steps to take if you, a family member, or a client is interested in participating in clinical research.

Click here for more information

The All of Us Research Program Seeks Feedback from the Community

The All of Us Research Program will create a community of one million or more people from across the U.S. to improve the future of health. Those who join the program will contribute their health, environment, and lifestyle information over an extended period of time. By gathering information from such a large group of people, researchers will be able to learn how specific factors impact an individual’s health, and disease prevention and treatment. This approach to tailoring health care for each unique individual is called, “precision medicine.” The research program developers want to hear from everyone about their thoughts and ideas for how to make All of Us a success. Ideas on topics such as participant engagement and communications, health information data security, and the type of data to be collected are welcome from researchers, health care providers, patients, or anyone who wants to contribute to greater knowledge.

For online form, click here.

NIMH Director’s Message: The Push for Suicide Prevention, By Joshua Gordon

I wrote in my welcome message about my priorities. First, we need to fund excellent science. Second, we should support studies that will yield benefits on short, medium, and long­term timescales. I also have three particular areas of interest: neural circuits, computational and theoretical psychiatry, and suicide prevention. Here I will discuss possible approaches to suicide prevention, representing an area of research with the potential to yield benefits in the short­term.

READ MORE NIMH » The Push for Suicide Prevention

 

SAMHSA provides up to $121 million for adult mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded up to a total of $121 million over the next five years for mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery. These SAMHSA grants are geared toward expanding and enhancing behavioral health care services for adults across the nation. “This funding will help fulfill SAMHSA’s commitment to reduce the impact of substance use and mental health disorders on America’s communities,” said SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto. “It will provide services to a number of vulnerable groups including people with HIV/AIDS and the homeless, among others.”

Read more SAMHSA provides up to $121 million for ..