Can neuroimaging reveal the roots of psychiatric disorders? Not yet

Summary: Although neuroimaging has great potential to help researchers link specific patterns of brain activity to mental health disorders, a new study reveals that there is still a long way to go to effectively link neuroimaging findings to mental health conditions. specific mental health disorders.

Source: Yale

Neuroimaging technology has shown great promise in helping clinicians link specific symptoms of mental health disorders to abnormal patterns of brain activity. But a new Yale-led study shows there are still problems to solve before doctors can translate brain images into psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Their conclusions are published on January 11 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Several years ago, the National Institutes of Mental Health launched a multibillion-dollar research effort to locate biomarkers of brain activity that point to the biological roots of a host of mental illnesses, which today are usually identified by clinical assessment of a constellation. often superimposed symptoms reported by patients.

“The idea is to forget about classifying diseases by symptoms and find underlying biological causes,” said Yale’s Ilan Harpaz-Rotem, professor of psychiatry and psychology and lead author of the study.

For the new study, the Yale-led team attempted to replicate the results of an earlier nationwide neuroimaging study, in which Emory and Harvard scientists linked clusters of brain activity to a variety of outcomes in of patients arriving in American emergency rooms following traumatic events. .

Specifically, when the researchers measured patients’ brain activity while performing simple tasks – including those that probe responses to threats and rewards – they detected a cluster of brain activities that showed strong reactivity. to threat and reward cues and seemed to predict more severe symptoms. PTSD later.

This shows a brain and a question mark
Although they identified the different clusters of brain activity observed in the previous study, they found no association with potential symptoms of PTSD. Image is in public domain

However, when Yale researchers analyzed similar neuroimaging data collected from recent trauma survivors in Israel, they were unable to replicate these findings. Although they identified the different clusters of brain activity observed in the previous study, they found no association with potential symptoms of PTSD.

“That’s not to say that one set of data is right and the other is wrong, just that there’s a lot of fundamental work that needs to be done to develop reliable models that could generalize to different studies,” he said. said Yale’s Ziv Ben-Zion. , a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of Medicine and corresponding author of the study.

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This shows brain scans from the study

In fact, the Yale researchers are now working with investigators from the original Emory-Harvard study to merge datasets “to search for common underlying patterns of brain activity associated with different responses to trauma.” Ben-Zion said.

“It took about 100 years to arrive at the current classifications of mental illnesses, but we’ve only been exploring the refinement of psychiatric diagnoses using biomarkers for 10 years,” Harpaz-Rotem said. “We still have a long way to go.”

About this neuroimaging and mental health research news

Author: Bess Connolly
Source: Yale
Contact: Bess Connolly-Yale
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: The findings will appear in American Journal of Psychiatry

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