Neuropsychiatric Issues

Anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are among the most frequently diagnosed of all neuropsychiatric disorders. Although many people can be treated with conventional medications, these drugs often have unwanted side-effects and may be diverted for illicit use. NEPRC scientists are making important contributions to our understanding of the biological basis and pharmacological management of anxiety and ADHD, and additional studies are providing new insights into the pathophysiology and treatment of self-injurious behavior (SIB).

Benzodiazepines are the most widely prescribed drugs for the treatment of anxiety, but their clinical effectiveness is limited by significant side-effects, including sedation, memory impairment, and dependence. Researchers in the Division of Behavioral Biology are working to develop better treatments for anxiety by helping to identify the neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying the anti-anxiety, sedating, and addictive effects of new drugs. Using a sophisticated battery of behavioral models, these studies are providing information that is crucial for developing safer and more broadly effective medications.

Using brain imaging techniques originally developed at NEPRC, researchers in the Division of Neurochemistry have discovered elevated levels of a key component of the brain dopamine system, the dopamine transporter, in patients with ADHD. This discovery may put the medical community closer to developing more accurate diagnostic tests and better prescribing practices for the disorder. Complementary research is identifying polymorphisms in the dopamine transporter gene and investigating the effects of novel medications in subjects with different levels of behavioral activity in order to develop a more accurate understanding of the biological basis of ADHD.

Self-injurious behavior, or SIB, is an increasingly recognized syndrome in people as well as nonhuman primates. NPRC researchers are making important advances in our understanding of SIB and its pathophysiological similarity to post-traumatic stress disorder. Using integrated behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine techniques, this research is providing the first definitive characterization of SIB in monkeys and new insights about risk factors and treatment potential.