Tired of hearing neuroscience, and brain imaging in particular, dismissed as trendy and overblown?
In this Sunday’s review section of the New York Times, Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel cited research by Emory psychiatrist Helen Mayberg and colleagues (published in JAMA Psychiatry) as a good example of research with potential for substantive impact for the treatment of mental illness:
In a recent study of people with depression, Professor Mayberg gave each person one of two types of treatment: cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that trains people to view their feelings in more positive terms, or an antidepressant medication. She found that people who started with below-average baseline activity in the right anterior insula responded well to cognitive behavioral therapy, but not to the antidepressant. People with above-average activity responded to the antidepressant, but not to cognitive behavioral therapy. Thus, Professor Mayberg found that she could predict a depressed person’s response to specific treatments from the baseline activity in the right anterior insula.
These results show us four very important things about the biology of mental disorders. First, the neural circuits disturbed by psychiatric disorders are likely to be very complex. Second, we can identify specific, measurable markers of a mental disorder, and those biomarkers can predict the outcome of two different treatments: psychotherapy and medication. Third, psychotherapy is a biological treatment, a brain therapy. It produces lasting, detectable physical changes in our brain, much as learning does. And fourth, the effects of psychotherapy can be studied empirically…
National Institutes of Mental Health director Thomas Insel also has commented on the technique’s clinical potential.
“For the treatment of mental disorders, brain imaging remains primarily a research tool, yet these results demonstrate how it may be on the cusp of aiding in clinical decision-making,” Insel said in a NIMH press release earlier this summer.
In addition, author David Dobbs and blogger Neurocritic both delve into the details of Mayberg’s work.