Mapping the Mind: a conversation between LeDoux and Kandel Eric Kandel

22 08 2014

Here is a fascinating interview with Kandel, a Nobel laureate and professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Columbia University. In this conversation between LeDoux and Kandel you can learn how do our brains remember:




23 05 2014

Here are fascinating findings regarding the Genes – Enviroment interaction and mental illness onset:

Are Neuropsychiatric Disorders caused by Autoimmune Sydndroms??

15 05 2014

Did you know that recent high quality, cutting edge research indicates that neuropsychiatric disorders may be caused by definable autoimmune syndromes?  The theoretical implications of this line of research may significantly impact the way we understand, diagnose and treat persons with neuropsychiatric disorders!

Here are two reviews in this issue that you may find interesting:

The Emerging Link Between Autoimmune Disorders and Neuropsychiatric Disease

Neuroinflammation and psychiatric illness




THE UNCONSCIOUS: A bridge between psychoanalysis and cognitive science – Researchers and clinicians in dialogue

23 03 2014

This year the Joseph Sandler Research Conference was devoted to a central topic of the interdisciplinary dialogue between contemporary psychoanalysis and other scientific disciplines: the unconscious. In order to see the lectures of the leading researchers and practitioners that participated in this interesting conference click HERE.

I would like to thanks Ms. Irith Raveh, Founder and Chairperson at Israel Forum of Neuropsychoanalysis, that sent me the links to these great lectures.

Brain Awareness Month – What do we know and don’t know about the brain

12 03 2014

Brain Awareness

By Thomas Insel

This is the time of March Madness, Daylight Savings Time, and what Emily Dickinson famously called the “month of expectation.” March is also Brain Awareness Month, an annual celebration with school visits, community lectures, and lab tours to introduce the public to the mind-blowing world of neuroscience. A list of Brain Awareness events can be found at , where you will also find that March 10 -16 is the peak for related public events around the world.

Since NIMH began focusing on mental disorders as brain disorders nearly two decades ago, educating people about the brain has been a priority for us. We often say that with the powerful tools of neuroscience, we can now use the brain to understand the mind, fulfilling the original vision that Freud had for a scientific psychology. But we have to remain humble about our understanding of the brain, because even our most powerful tools remain pretty blunt instruments for decoding the brain. In fact, we still do not know how to decipher the basic language of how the brain works.

A few numbers can help to define the challenge. The human brain is thought to have close to 86 billion neurons, each making on average about 10,000 connections. In contrast to most animals, our brains are largely made up of a heavily folded cortex, accounting for 80 percent of brain mass and about 100,000 miles of axons that provide the highways between neurons.1

How many different kinds of neurons are there in the brain? We really don’t know.  Unlike the heart or kidney, which have a small, defined set of cell types, we still do not have a taxonomy of neurons, and neuroscientists still argue whether specific types of neurons are unique to humans. But there is no disputing that neurons are only about 10 percent of the cells in the human brain. Most of our brain cells are glial cells, once thought to be mere support cells, but now understood as having a critical role in brain function. Glial cells in the human brain are markedly different from glial cells in other brains, suggesting that they may be important in the evolution of brain function. As one hint to their function, astrocytes, which are one form of glial cell, have been reported recently to “eat” synapses in the brain, providing a critical new mechanism for brain plasticity.2

How does the brain work? Again, we really don’t know. We have a very detailed understanding of how the heart pumps and the kidney filters, but how the brain encodes, stores, and retrieves information is still largely a mystery. We have known for over a century that most of the cortex is organized horizontally into six precise layers, and much of the cortex has vertical mini-columns, but how this matrix of horizontal and vertical structures computes information is not really clear.

Neuroscientists talk a lot about brain circuits. In fact, the word “circuit” is probably misleading. We do not know where most circuits begin and end. And unlike an electrical circuit, brain connections are heavily reciprocal and recursive, so that a direction of information flow can be inferred but sometimes not proven. We believe there are “emergent properties” of the brain that convert electrical signals into memories or dreams, but how this happens is still a mystery. Recent studies have shown that diffuse waves of synchronization across the brain may be critical for attention or learning, but we are just learning about these slow waves of activity, and whether they occur at the “speed of thought” is still debated.3

Of course, the spectacular images from MRI and PET scans have already given us maps for perception and fear and language and many other functions. As scanners have improved their resolution from 1.5T (tesla) to 3T to recent 7T magnets, and the protocols and analytic approaches have evolved, we now can map the cortical real estate associated with complex tasks like decision-making and face recognition. But these approaches, even with the best current technology, are still a 30,000-foot view of the action. Jay Giedd here at NIMH estimates that each gray matter voxel—the individual 3D pixels of 1 cubic mm that make up the scan—contains about 90,000 neurons, 400 meters of dendrites, and 4.5 million synapses. Each scan has over 650,000 voxels. And the actual measure is not neural activity per se but local blood flow, which changes slowly relative to the speed of thought.

In a sense, functional MRI (fMRI) is providing an image of something like the power grid of a city. fMRI slowly maps where and when different parts of the brain wake up, based on blood oxygen metabolism. By contrast, the street map of the brain is being mapped by the Human Connectome Project. Supported by the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research , over 100 neuroscientists at ten sites in the United States and Europe are building something like a Google map for the human brain.  Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have created new MRI scanners with greatly enhanced resolution for looking at the geometric structure of the human brain.4 One remarkable claim from that work (still controversial) is that the fiber connections which heretofore looked like a bowl of spaghetti might actually have a relatively simple grid structure, allowing comparisons of connectomes between people. This kind of comparison is already underway at Washington University and the University of Minnesota where the Human Connectome Project  is obtaining the wiring diagrams of 1200 healthy adults, including 300 twin pairs. Thus far, data from the first 226 volunteers have been released on the Connectome website, with 10 gigabytes of data available for each subject. That’s right, this project is releasing the data as it becomes available to scientists everywhere—over 700 users are already mining the Connectome data to see how a Google map of the human brain might answer their questions.

Whether March for you means basketball, changing clocks, or expectations, I hope you will check out some of the Brain Awareness events. Brain science has become one of the most exciting frontiers of science. When I was a kid, the scientific frontier was “outer space.” Today it seems to be “inner space” that fascinates the boldest and brightest young minds (or should we say young brains). We are still at the beginning of what could be an era of brain exploration, with great promise for understanding more about how each of us thinks and dreams and loves, but perhaps even greater promise for helping people with mental disorders.


1 Lent R, Azevedo FA, Andrade-Moraes CH, Pinto AV. How many neurons do you have? Some dogmas of quantitative neuroscience under revision.  Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Jan;35(1):1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07923.x.

2 Chung WS et al. Astrocytes mediate synapse elimination through MEGF10 and MERTK pathways . Nature. 2013 Dec 19;504(7480):394-400. doi: 10.1038/nature12776. Epub 2013 Nov 24.

3 Salazar RF, Dotson NM, Bressler SL, Gray CM. Content-specific fronto-parietal synchronization during visual working memory Science 2012 Nov 23;338(6110):109-100. doi: 10.1126/science.1224000.

4 Wedeen VJ et al. The geometric structure of the brain fiber pathways .Science. 2012 Mar 30;335(6076):1628-34. doi: 10.1126/science. 1215280.

Why did mental health got attention at the World Economic Forum in Davos

29 01 2014

You can find three main answers for the question above at the latest post of NIMH director, Dr. Thomas Insel:

Mental Health in Davos

By Thomas Insel

Just returning from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. While media reports covered speeches from some of the 40 heads of state attending or skewered the over-the-top parties of the rich and famous associated with this annual meeting, they missed a remarkable story: this was the year that mental health became a hot topic at the WEF. There were over 20 sessions on health, many of them focused on mental illness, dementia, or mindfulness. Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature, moderated a session on the “Mental Health Imperative.” An unprecedented health summit began with the Prime Minister of Norway declaring that mental health was her leading health care priority. And celebrities from Goldie Hawn to Arianna Huffington argued for the need to focus on mental health. One Davos regular compared mental health in 2014 to AIDS in 1994, when the WEF declared the need for a global focus on an emerging, heavily stigmatized, frequently misunderstood disorder.

Why did mental health get so much attention at a global economic meeting, dedicated to “improving the state of the world”? I heard three answers to this question. First, the WEF focuses on the developing world, or in WEF-speak “emerging markets” as well as the developed world. Health problems have become a major speed bump to development, with chronic, non-communicable diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, pulmonary diseases, mental disorders) the major economic and public health threat. In a study  commissioned by the WEF, mental disorders emerged as the single largest health cost with global projections increasing to $6 trillion annually by 2030, more than diabetes, cancer, and pulmonary diseases combined. Perhaps that should not be surprising since mental disorders, which usually start before adulthood, greatly increase the risk for other chronic, non-communicable diseases throughout the lifespan. Hence, the expression “no health without mental health.”

Second, for employers, mental illnesses, especially anxiety and mood disorders, are a threat to productivity. Research has shown that the high rates of absenteeism and presenteeism (at work despite illness) associated with depression cost, on average, $250,000 for every 1000 workers each year.1 An NIMH-funded study showed that even a low-intensity intervention, cognitive behavior therapy delivered by telephone, could offset these costs.2 While Davos extols compassionate leaders dedicated to the well-being of their employees, for many CEOs the business case for detecting and treating depression was also compelling.

Third, the Davos meeting is a place for identifying macroeconomic and social trends. This year we heard about big data, the “internet of things” (sensors for mobile devices and wearable computers), and robotics. But an even bigger trend was the recognition that the 21st century will belong to brain-based economies. This explains, in part, the brain initiatives that have been launched in the European Union and the United States (both featured at this meeting) and it explains the concern with policies for brain health, from promoting resources for child development to preventing dementia. In the same way that infectious diseases were understood and curtailed in the 20th century, WEF speakers stressed that research and better care must reduce the public health challenge of brain disorders in the 21st century for nations to succeed. Importantly, one of the recurrent comments in sessions at Davos was the importance of including social factors in both research and treatments for brain disorders. In addition to “no health without mental health,” we can add from Davos “no wealth without mental health.”

Like the rarefied atmosphere in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain(thought to be set in Davos), the WEF is famous for big ideas that might not survive at sea level. But the emergence of mental health as a hot topic at this year’s meeting is just one example of the increasing recognition that the time has come to focus on this profound public health problem that has received too little attention. Recent articles in the New York Times (see for example “For the Mentally Ill, It’s Worse ,” by op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, January 24, 2014), new legislation  in Congress, and the White House meeting  last year all point to a trend: the time is now. It will be important to use this moment to focus on science as well as services, to aspire for outcomes measured by well-being and not just symptom reduction, and to put people with mental disorders at the center of our efforts.


1 Kessler RC, Merikangas DR, Wang PS. The prevalence and correlates of workplace depression in the national comorbidity survey replication. J Occup Environ Med. 2008 Apr;50(4):381-90. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31816ba9b8.

2 Wang PS et al. Telephone screening, outreach, and care management for depressed workers and impact on clinical and work productivity outcomes: a randomized controlled trial.  JAMA. 2007 Sep 26;298(12):1401-11.

How the anatomical structure of the brain impacts its functional networks?

20 01 2014

Today I want to offer an interesting paper by Andreas et al (2013) that sought to  determine how the anatomical structure of the brain impacts its functional networks. I think that their interesting findings (see abstract below) may contribute to a better understanding of brain functioning in healthy people and people with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Enjoy!

Andreas Horn, et al., “The structural–functional connectome and the default mode network of the human brain,” NeuroImage, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.09.069


An emerging field of human brain imaging deals with the characterization of the connectome, a comprehensive global description of structural and functional connectivity within the human brain. However, the question of how functional and structural connectivity are related has not been fully answered yet. Here, we used different methods to estimate the connectivity between each voxel of the cerebral cortex based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data in order to obtain observer-independent functional–structural connectomes of the human brain. Probabilistic fiber-tracking and a novel global fiber-tracking technique were used to measure structural connectivity whereas for functional connectivity, full and partial correlations between each voxel pair’s fMRI-timecourses were calculated. For every voxel, two vectors consisting of functional and structural connectivity estimates to all other voxels in the cortex were correlated with each other. In this way, voxels structurally and functionally connected to similar regions within the rest of the brain could be identified. Areas forming parts of the ‘default mode network’ (DMN) showed the highest agreement of structure–function connectivity. Bilateral precuneal and inferior parietal regions were found using all applied techniques, whereas the global tracking algorithm additionally revealed bilateral medial prefrontal cortices and early visual areas. There were no significant differences between the results obtained from full and partial correlations. Our data suggests that the DMN is the functional brain network, which uses the most direct structural connections. Thus, the anatomical profile of the brain seems to shape its functional repertoire and the computation of the whole-brain functional–structural connectome appears to be a valuable method to characterize global brain connectivity within and between populations.