|TH E N I H C A T A L Y S T||JU L Y A U G U S T 2008|
The National Institute of Mental Health took advantage of the proximity of this year's annual American Psychiatric Association, held in May at the D.C. Convention Center, to offer an outpouring of both intramural and extramural research in a series of presentations, panel discussions, clinical briefings and press conference.
Highlights included new studies for clinically diagnosing and treating depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
One NIMH-sponsored symposium, "Treatments for Schizophrenia, Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse," drew an overflowing room of attendees. Featured here was Carlos Zarate, Chief of Experimental Therapeutics in NIHM's Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, who presented a talk titled, "Developing Improved Therapeutics for Refractory Mood Disorders."
Zarate summarized ongoing research on targets for the development of novel therapeutics to assist in deterring recurrent mood episodes that current pharmacotherapy may not always effectively control. These findings include explanations of AMPA throughput enhancers or synaptic plasticity enhancing strategies, AMPA potentiators and glutamate reuptake enhancers.
"The NIH focus is on true translational research," said Zarate. "What we can do here [at NIH] is incredible: Our staff and resources allow for more high-risk and innovative studies that are difficult to do in other areas. We try to make major breakthroughs. Then, the concepts learned in our research are extended outward to show that plasticity applies in the medical field, across disorders and beyond medical disciplines."
Additional NIMH research findings included talks on how neuroimaging has increased our understanding of risks for disorder development. Presentations covered summaries of a 20-year ongoing longitudinal neuroimaging project of healthy children and adolescents to identify dynamic brain changes during adolescence.
Jay Giedd, Chief of NIMH's Unit on Brain Imaging in the Child Psychiatry Branch, discussed MRI studies showing increasing frontal lobe involvement in mental development from childhood to adulthood. And Joseph Piven of the University of North Carolina presented NIH-supported imaging data that identified brain enlargement in autistic patients.
Explaining how advanced imaging research can clearly redirect scientists to the usefulness of additional and newer research tactics, NIMH Psychiatry Fellow Philip Shaw introduced results of a group study for delayed brain maturation. This imaging study compared the brain scans of over 450 ADHD and non-ADHD children and found that the cortex matured about three years later in ADHD patients. Despite the delay, the order or sequence in which the different parts of the brain matured was similar between affected and unaffected children.
"The study suggests we should look further into factors, such as genes, which might be responsible for this delay, especially as this delay can persist well into adulthood," said Shaw.
Not unlike the mice in early NIMH studies, the thousands of meeting attendees found themselves scurrying through the maze of the D.C. Convention Center from presentation to presentation. "These APA meetings are a great forum for us to present our work and disseminate knowledge - to both medical and press attendees," Zarate said. "They support a dialogue over current limitations on therapeutics, and we get avenues to further address the public's evolving mental health needs."