What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Our thoughts are often mysterious to us. You probably don’t know why you suddenly think about a Komodo dragon while sitting in traffic or Citizen Kane while shopping for groceries. Such moments remind us that we are each the emergent property of an amazingly complex organ that never stops surprising us. Nonetheless, we usually feel in control of our thoughts. Even with the occasional unexpected thought, life continues as normal.Continue reading

The Slippery Slope of Dishonesty

A kid stealing candy in a convenience store grows up to be a convicted criminal. A husband who flirts with a coworker ends up as a serial cheater. A politician telling a few “white lies” to his or her constituents is eventually convicted of fraud. These are all extreme — but plausible — scenarios where dishonesty might escalate over time, resulting in dramatic and life-changing consequences. But how far does this slippery slope actually go? How can science help us answer this question?Continue reading

Mental Health is a Part of Health: A Conversation with Shekhar Saxena

In a recent presidential town hall, President Obama looked directly into the camera and made a powerful statement about mental health. “If something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury. You’ve got to go get help,” said the leader of the free world.

Buried under the weight of a massive social stigma, seeking help or even acknowledging a mental illness can be an excruciating task. How, then, can we help ourselves and our loved ones achieve emotional and mental well-being?Continue reading

Copy Number Variants: A Window into Psychiatric Illness

The human genome consists of nearly 25,000 protein-coding genes – and a mutation in just one of these can have dramatic effects on our brains.  Remarkably, one tiny change in our genes (which can be as small as 0.000000025 cm!) can lead to visible changes in our behavior.  Schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD have all been linked to variations in our DNA.  But how do changes in our genetic code result in these complex psychiatric disorders?Continue reading

An Interview with Steve Silberman, Author of NeuroTribes

Ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin my interview with celebrated writer Steve Silberman, I still had not figured out which questions I wanted to ask him.  Staring down at a list of over 50 topics, I was overwhelmed by just how much there is to discuss when it comes to the history of the discovery of autism and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis.  Silberman was one of the first members of the mainstream media to bring attention to the rise in autism diagnoses, and I wanted to know why autism had captured his interest.  Continue reading

Why Dopamine Makes People More Impulsive

Over the past few decades, the neurochemical dopamine has earned the reputation of being the brain’s reward molecule.  This image is built on observations that when animals and humans experience surges of dopamine, they feel rewarded and motivated to pursue more of the experience or substance which triggered the dopamine release.  Researchers theorize that this neurochemical is at the root of an ancient system that evolved to make us feel gratified and thus more likely to approach situations and objects that might satisfy our needs — anything from nutrition to the more sophisticated desires for social approval or even money, a universal ticket for access to most resources.Continue reading

The Fugue of Life: Why Complexity Matters in Physiology and Neuroscience

People like simplicity. Each decade, corporate logos grow progressively minimalistic, pop songs use ever simpler melodies, and visual art embraces simpler compositions, as Monet gives way to Picasso and Picasso gives way Rothko.  This zeitgeist, summarized as “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” shapes our perceptions of physiology in interesting ways.  The thumping of a beating heart is often celebrated as nature’s beautifully simple rhythm.  Listening through a doctor’s stethoscope, one expects any deviation from perfect rhythmicity to be an omen of disease.Continue reading

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin! Knowing Neurons

(Transneuronal) Attack of the Mutant Huntingtin!

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an incredibly debilitating neurodegenerative disorder. Currently, there is no treatment that effectively reverses the progression of the disease or delays its onset. Huntington’s is a particularly difficult diagnosis because it is an autosomal dominant degenerative disease, meaning that any child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Most children who inherit the disease have inevitably watched their parents battle with it.Continue reading