Classifying Neural Circuit Dysfunctions Using Neuroeconomics

A new approach proposed in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, July 24, 2012 - The traditional approach to psychiatric diagnosis is based on grouping patients on the basis of symptom clusters. This approach to diagnosis has a number of problems, as symptoms are not necessarily specific to a single diagnosis. Symptoms may vary among patients with a particular diagnosis, and there are no clear diagnostic biomarkers or tests for psychiatry as there are for other areas of medicine.

With this in mind, Steve Chang, along with colleagues from Duke University, introduces a new classification scheme for psychiatric symptoms based on the state of a dysfunctional neural circuit. This is a thought-provoking proposal altering the way science thinks about psychiatric disorders, all of which have been found to have some form of neural circuit dysfunction.

The authors focus on two kinds of function al deficits. Variance-shifted functionality is a condition by which a damaged circuit continues to function, but not at its optimal capacity. State-shifted functionality, on the other hand, is when the function of the circuit is either completely absent or altered in such a way that its output is functionally different.

They discuss these deficits from the perspective of neuroeconomics, an interdisciplinary field that studies the process of decision-making, and related investigations in animals.

"This paper suggests a future in which a cluster of important symptoms for some psychopathology is isolated, classified according to the information-based scheme outlined by Chang et al. and then used to guide the production of a model organism exhibiting deficits in a contributing neural system," commented neuroeconomics expert P. Read Montague at Virginia Tech. "These possibilities are quite exciting not only because of the possible insights into basic mechanisms, but also because of the potentially fruitful interplay with clinical applications."

"Every day, millions of people struggle with mental illness. While great progress has been made in our understanding of mental illnesses, we lack an adequate framework for connecting mental illness with the underlying problems in the brain," saidstudy’s first author Steve Chang, postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. "Our understanding of electrical circuits and recent animal studies in the field of neuroeconomics provides novel insights into the ways neural circuits might fail, resulting in specific symptoms. Our hope is that these insights spur new research and ideas in the treatment of mental disorders."

"In an era where psychiatry hopes to draw tighter links between brain biology and diagnosis, it is important to find ways to begin the discussion about how this might be accomplished," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. This study is a step in that direction.

The article is "Mechanistic Classification of Neural Circuit Dysfunctions: Insights from Neuroeconomics Research in Animals" by Steve W.C. Chang, David L. Barack, and Michael L. Platt (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.02.017). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 72, Issue 2 (July 15, 2012), published by Elsevier.

Notes for editors Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors of the journal article may contact Julie Rhodes at +1 919 613 5014 or julie.rhodes@duke.edu.

The authors’ affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry

Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 126 Psychiatry titles and 15th out of 237 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2010 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 8.674.

About Elsevier
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