Neuroplasticity & SPECT Imaging

30 10 2012

Today I want to suggest a very interesting interview between Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Daniel Amen about the exciting technologies that may assist us to better understand, assess and address brain-related disorders (yes, including “mental disorder”, which are, as you know by now, are brain disorders). This interview highlight once again the need to develop a more scientific diagnostic system to brain disorders such as depression, OCD, Bipolar disorder, eating disorders and Psychotic disorders. I wish to thank my LinkedIn connection, Monica Azizi from Florida, for publishing this great interview.

Dr. Daniel Amen

The Amygdala: A Fascinating Conference

23 10 2012

In case that you will be in the London area in November, 19th, it is highly recommended to attend this free of charge conference that focuses on one on my most favorite parts of the brain: the AMYGDALA. As you can see, some of the best researchers in the field (e.g., LeDoux) will deliver a lecture. For those who are less familiar with the Amygdala, here is a brief description of this important nuclei:  

The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain. It is a limbic system structure that is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure. The amygdala is also responsible for determining what memories are stored and where the memories are stored in the brain. It is thought that this determination is based on how huge an emotional response an event invokes.



Here is the invitation to the conference:


Sponsored by:

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

The Wellcome Trust



Monday 19th November 2012

Henry Wellcome Auditorium

Wellcome Collections Conference Centre

The amygdala, a prominent part of the limbic system, has been implicated in a diverse set of biologically important functions ranging from aversive emotions, through consolidation of memories, to the identification of ethologically relevant stimuli. The meeting collects together some of the leading theoreticians and experimenters exploring these and other functions of the amygdala. A lively exchange of ideas and data is predicted.

Monday 19th November 2012


09:00 Registration and Coffee

09:20 David Amaral

“A brief overview of the anatomical organization of the amygdala”

09:45 Joseph LeDoux

“Emotion and Survival: What’s the Connection?”

10:30 Break (Coffee/Tea)

11:00 Andreas Lüthi

“Inhibition in neuronal networks of fear”

11:45 James McGaugh

“Making Lasting Memories: Emotional Arousal and Amygdala Activation”

12:30 Lunch

13:30 Florian Mormann

“A category-specific response to animals in the right human amygdala”

14:15 David Amaral

“The amygdala, autism and anxiety”

15:00 Break (Tea/Coffee)

15:30 Barry Everitt

“The amygdala and the reconsolidation of aversive and appetitive memories”

16:15 John O’Keefe

“Amygdala: an active memory system for ethologically-significant stimuli”

17:00 Post Meeting Discussion over Drinks and Canapes

HOST: Professor John O’Keefe


Please Note:

Registration is free however, because of limited numbers, is a requirement.

A New Paper Concerning Depression-related Stigma and Discrimination

20 10 2012

The results of the paper below which was written by some of the leading figures in the field, will probably not strike you: stigma and discrimination toward people with major depression still exist, and is still, indeed, one of the main barriers to recovery and social inclusion of people with psychiatric illnesses. While not surprising, the results of this comprehensive research require us to think harder of effective ways to tackle this negative phenomenon. Any ideas?  

Global pattern of experienced and anticipated discrimination reported by people with major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional survey

Background: Depression is the third leading contributor to the worldwide burden of disease. We assessed the nature and severity of experienced and anticipated discrimination reported by adults with major depressive disorder worldwide. Moreover, we investigated whether experienced discrimination is related to clinical history, provision of health care, and disclosure of diagnosis and whether anticipated discrimination is associated with disclosure and previous experiences of discrimination.
Methods: In a cross-sectional survey, people with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder were interviewed in 39 sites (35 countries) worldwide with the discrimination and stigma scale (version 12; DISC-12). Other inclusion criteria were ability to understand and speak the main local language and age 18 years or older. The DISC-12 subscores assessed were reported discrimination and anticipated discrimination. Multivariable regression was used to analyse the data.
Findings: 1082 people with depression completed the DISC-12. Of these, 855 (79%) reported experiencing discrimination in at least one life domain. 405 (37%) participants had stopped themselves from initiating a close personal relationship, 271 (25%) from applying for work, and 218 (20%) from applying for education or training. We noted that higher levels of experienced discrimination were associated with several lifetime depressive episodes (negative binomial regression coeffi cient 0·20 [95% CI 0·09–0·32], p=0·001); at least one lifetime psychiatric hospital admission (0·29 [0·15–0·42], p=0·001); poorer levels of social functioning (widowed, separated, or divorced 0·10 [0·01–0·19], p=0·032; unpaid employed 0·34 [0·09–0·60], p=0·007; looking for a job 0·26 [0·09–0·43], p=0·002; and unemployed 0·22 [0·03–0·41], p=0·022). Experienced discrimination was also associated with lower willingness to disclose a diagnosis of depression (mean discrimination score 4·18 [SD 3·68] for concealing depression vs 2·25 [2·65] for disclosing depression; p<0·0001). Anticipated discrimination is not necessarily associated with experienced discrimination because 147 (47%) of 316 participants who anticipated discrimination in fi nding or keeping a job and 160 (45%) of 353 in their intimate relationships had not experienced discrimination.
Interpretation: Discrimination related to depression acts as a barrier to social participation and successful vocational integration. Non-disclosure of depression is itself a further barrier to seeking help and to receiving eff ective treatment. This finding suggests that new and sustained approaches are needed to prevent stigmatisation of people with depression and reduce the eff ects of stigma when it is already established.

For the full paper click HERE

How Does Our IS Work?

16 10 2012

Today I wish to give you an opprotunity to hear a great lecture by Prof. Irun Cohen from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. The lecture subject is the Immune System. True, most of my regular readers (and neither am I…) are biologists; however, I think that since the Immune System may significantly contribute to the presence or absence of neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions there is a good reason to better understand how it works. What do you think?

ASD Revised…

14 10 2012

Following some responds that I received about the post entitled 1 in 88 and due to the bitter debate among people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families, professionals, and other stakeholders concerning the suggested revised definition of ASD by the upcoming DSM5, I wanted to present the DSM5 approach and to hear your notion about it.

According to the DSM5, Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder and must be present from infancy or early childhood, but may not be detected until later because of minimal social demands and support from parents or caregivers in early years. The proposed diagnosis suggests that Autism Spectrum Disorder must meet criteria A, B, C, and D:

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, and manifest by all 3 of the following:

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and response to total lack of initiation of social interaction,

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction; ranging from poorly integrated- verbal and nonverbal communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body-language, or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to total lack of facial expression or gestures.

3. Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships, appropriate to developmental level (beyond those with caregivers); ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit different social contexts through difficulties in sharing imaginative play and in making friends to an apparent absence of interest in people

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following:

1. Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).

2. Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change; (such as motoric rituals, insistence on same route or food, repetitive questioning or extreme distress at small changes).

3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).

4. Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment; (such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or spinning objects).

C. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)

D. Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.

Furthermore, unlike the DSM4 that distinguished among autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, the DSM5 suggests to unit them to a single spectrum disorder while distinguishing among three main severity levels (see table below).

Severity Level for ASD Social Communication Restricted interests & repetitive behaviors
Level 3

‘Requiring very substantial support’

Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills cause severe impairments in functioning; very limited initiation of social interactions and minimal response to social overtures from others. Preoccupations, fixated rituals and/or repetitive behaviors markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres. Marked distress when rituals or routines are interrupted; very difficult to redirect from fixated interest or returns to it quickly.
Level 2

‘Requiring substantial support’

Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills; social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation of social interactions and reduced or abnormal response to social overtures from others. RRBs and/or preoccupations or fixated interests appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer and interfere with functioning in a variety of contexts. Distress or frustration is apparent when RRB’s are interrupted; difficult to redirect from fixated interest.
Level 1

‘Requiring support’

Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. Has difficulty initiating social interactions and demonstrates clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful responses to social overtures of others. May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions. Rituals and repetitive behaviors (RRB’s) cause significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts. Resists attempts by others to interrupt RRB’s or to be redirected from fixated interest.

Do you think that this proposed conceptualization will improve our ability to better understand, assess and address these health condition/s? Do you thing that this revised approach to ASD will impact the rights and life opportunities of people with ASD? Any other thoughts?

Two Op-Ed by Jay Ruderman

13 10 2012

This time I wish to share with you two recent Op-Eds by Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.  The first Op-Ed, featured in the Boston Globe speaks about unemployment and the importance of hiring people with disabilities. The second Op-Ed in the Albany Times-Union advocates for use public special education funds to support private, faith-based education for children with disabilities.

The Ruderman Family Foundation is a great example for a foundation that significantly improve lives opprotuinties and quelity of life of people with disabilities and in Israel and in the states.

Jay Ruderman

1 in 88

9 10 2012

“According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest study, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with autism by the time he or she is 8 years old. That’s almost double the 2002 rate”. What is up with that??

Here is a short interview with Peter Bell, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, with joins Jennifer Granholm in “The War Room” to talk about this epidemic:



The Healing Power of Music

6 10 2012

Here is a very interesting lecture by Dr. Gupta about a subject that I am not quite familiar with: Music Therapy. While I love and appreciate good music, I did not realize the significant effect of music in treatment and rehabilitation processes. I think that some of you will find it interesting and helpful:

Violinist Robert Vijay Gupta joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the age of 19. He made his solo debut, at age 11, with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. He has a Master’s in music from Yale. But his undergraduate degree? Pre-med. As an undergrad, Gupta was part of several research projects in neuro- and neurodegenerative biology. He held Research Assistant positions at CUNY Hunter College in New York City, where he worked on spinal cord neuronal regeneration, and at the Harvard Institutes of Medicine Center for Neurologic Diseases, where he studied the biochemical pathology of Parkinson’s disease.

Gupta is passionate about education and outreach, both as a musician and as an activist for mental health issues. He has the privilege of working with Nathaniel Ayers, the brilliant, schizophrenic musician featured in “The Soloist,” as his violin teacher.

Dr. Robert Vijay Gupta

“Understanding of mental illness as a neurodevelopmental disorder is key”

3 10 2012

“[Mental illnesses] are brain disorders and by that I don’t mean you have a tumor or a lesion but that they are disorders of circuits. These are brain circuit problems. It’s is not a question of behavior but of the genetics of the organ, the brain in this case”.

“The brain is incredibly resilient… behavior is the last thing to go,” says Dr. Insel. Trying to treat a mental disorder by addressing behavior is difficult and not the most effective method. By that time, the illness is already in Stage IV of its development and symptoms have begun to show, the brain has already been deeply impacted. The warning signs of an impending illness (stage II) have already passed and the first episodes have already occurred (stage III). As with heart disease, if you wait until the last thing happens—a heart attack in the case of heart disease—outcomes aren’t good.

“….Studies are being made and research is being conducted that allows for more accurate images of the brain that in turn have allowed us to examine the different levels of an illness. Instead of addressing merely the behavioral manifestations of the brain disorder, we can hopefully begin to address the illness in the prodromal, or beginning, stages. Looking at the behavioral symptoms is still important but we need to find out what’s going on at the level of physiology, at the level of cells and genes and molecules, to get a much more comprehensive picture”.

New techniques such as diffusion spectrum imaging have allowed scientists to begin to map the neural fiber pathways of the brain. While these methods are still in their infancy they show promise. They allow us to decode the “bowl of spaghetti”. With the new technologies we can now begin to see into that mass in the middle. We hope that by the end of this year we will be able to tell what the actual connectivity is between two parts of the brain. Ultimately being able to discover what is exactly different between individuals with depression and individuals with schizophrenia, what part of the brain changes with treatment.

“For the first time we can begin to say, ‘So this is what depression looks like… these are the parts of the brain that are involved in PTSD or the parts that are involved in OCD  or schizophrenia.’”

“The understanding of mental illness as a neurodevelopmental disorder is key. Continued research on the early stages of the development of mental illness will result in treatments that can truly begin to address the core of the problem rather than focusing on mitigating the visible expressions of the illness”.

“Research into the circuits of the brain is not the only thing to be done. It’s not just a matter of getting clearer pictures of the brain, identifying the neurons, cells and structures in the brain. Evidence has continued to show one thing, over and over: “If you look at those things that help to build resilience… one of the best is simply by getting families involved.” It’s not just all the brain talk that’s important, it’s the human talk too”.

These very important and exciting things were said by Dr. Thomas Insel, Head of the National Institute of Mental Health (USA). Now I hope to hear the same thing from policy makers in Israel…

To read the full article enter:

And a related article by Insel:

One in 10 Employees in Europe have Missed Work Due to Depression

1 10 2012

Few days ago I discussed the biological aspects of depression. This time I want to talk about the dire [socio] economic consequences of this serious health condition. According to a new survey by the European Depression Association one in 10 working people surveyed in Europe have taken time off work because of depression causing more than 21,000 Working Days Lost. Furthermore, this survey indicate that “the costs of depression were estimated at €92 billion in 2010 in the EU, with lost productivity due to absenteeism (taking time off work) and presenteeism (being present at work while ill) representing over 50% of all costs related to depression”.  Due to mental illness stigma “one in four of those experiencing depression stated they did not tell their employer about their problem. Of these, one in three said they felt it would put their job at risk in the current economic climate”.  Hmmm… these figures my friends are significant. I hope that policy makers read this survey and think about some effective ways to address this issue.


Here is a link to the article from which I found these interesting findings: