PCOM Library / Hot Topics in Research / Archive for "Psychology and Psychiatry"

Category: Psychology and Psychiatry

Hot Topics: Reward Behavior Provides Insights into Depression

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Mood Disorders, Neurology

Reward behaviour is regulated by the strength of hippocampus–nucleus accumbens synapses

LeGates TA, Kvarta MD, Tooley JR, et al. Reward behaviour is regulated by the strength of hippocampus–nucleus accumbens synapses. Nature. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0740-8.

Reward drives motivated behaviours and is essential for survival, and therefore there is strong evolutionary pressure to retain contextual information about rewarding stimuli. This drive may be abnormally strong, such as in addiction, or weak, such as in depression, in which anhedonia (loss of pleasure in response to rewarding stimuli) is a prominent symptom. Hippocampal input to the shell of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is important for driving NAc activity1,2 and activity-dependent modulation of the strength of this input may contribute to the proper regulation of goal-directed behaviours. However, there have been few robust descriptions of the mechanisms that underlie the induction or expression of long-term potentiation (LTP) at these synapses, and there is, to our knowledge, no evidence about whether such plasticity contributes to reward-related behaviour. Here we show that high-frequency activity induces LTP at hippocampus–NAc synapses in mice via canonical, but dopamine-independent, mechanisms. The induction of LTP at this synapse in vivo drives conditioned place preference, and activity at this synapse is required for conditioned place preference in response to a natural reward. Conversely, chronic stress, which induces anhedonia, decreases the strength of this synapse and impairs LTP, whereas antidepressant treatment is accompanied by a reversal of these stress-induced changes. We conclude that hippocampus–NAc synapses show activity-dependent plasticity and suggest that their strength may be critical for contextual reward behaviour.

Hot Topics: Chronic Pain Lessened by Stimulating the Brain

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Neurology, Substance Use Disorders

Patients’ Experience With Opioid Tapering: A Conceptual Model With Recommendations for Clinicians

Ahn S, Prim JH, Alexander ML, McCulloch KL, Fröhlich F. Identifying and engaging neuronal oscillations by transcranial alternating current stimulation in patients with chronic low back pain: A randomized, crossover, double-blind, sham-controlled pilot study. The Journal of Pain. . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2018.09.004

Clinical guidelines discourage prescribing opioids for chronic pain, but give minimal advice about how to discuss opioid tapering with patients. We conducted focus groups and interviews involving 21 adults with chronic back or neck pain in different stages of opioid tapering. Transcripts were qualitatively analyzed to characterize patients’ tapering experiences, build a conceptual model of these experiences, and identify strategies for promoting productive discussions of opioid tapering. Analyses revealed 3 major themes. First, owing to dynamic changes in patients’ social relationships, emotional state, and health status, patients’ pain and their perceived need for opioids fluctuate daily; this finding may conflict with recommendations to taper by a certain amount each month. Second, tapering requires substantial patient effort across multiple domains of patients’ everyday lives; patients discuss this effort superficially, if at all, with clinicians. Third, patients use a variety of strategies to manage the tapering process (eg, keeping an opioid stash, timing opioid consumption based on planned activities). Recommendations for promoting productive tapering discussions include understanding the social and emotional dynamics likely to impact patients’ tapering, addressing patient fears, focusing on patients’ best interests, providing anticipatory guidance about tapering, and developing an individualized tapering plan that can be adjusted based on patient response.

Perspective: This study used interview and focus group data to characterize patients’ experiences with opioid tapering and identify communication strategies that are likely to foster productive, patient-centered discussions of opioid tapering. Findings will inform further research on tapering and help primary care clinicians to address this important, often challenging topic.

Hot Topics: Assessment Identifies Patients At Risk for Cardiac-Induced PTSD

Jackie Werner Cardiology, Hot Topics in Research, Psychology and Psychiatry

Development and Validation of a Measure to Assess Patients’ Threat Perceptions in the Emergency Department

Cornelius T, Agarwal S, Garcia O, Chaplin W, Edmondson D, Chang BP. Development and validation of a measure to assess patients’ threat perceptions in the emergency department. Acad Emerg Med. 2018;0. https://doi.org/10.1111/acem.13513.


Threat perceptions in the Emergency Department (ED) (e.g., patients’ subjective feelings of helplessness or lack of control) during evaluation for an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) are associated with the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and PTSD has been associated with medication nonadherence, cardiac event recurrence, and mortality. This study reports the development and validation of a 7‐item measure of ED Threat Perceptions in English‐ and Spanish‐speaking patients evaluated for ACS.


Participants were drawn from an observational cohort study of 1,000 patients evaluated for ACS between 2013‐2016 in a large, New York City hospital. Participants reported on threat perceptions in the ED and during inpatient stay (using 12 items previously identified as predictive of PTSD) and reported on cardiac‐induced PTSD one month post‐discharge. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were used to establish the factor structure and test measurement invariance. Validity and reliability were examined, as was the association of ED Threat Perceptions with cardiac‐induced PTSD.


Factor analyses identified a 7‐item measure of ED Threat Perceptions (e.g., “I feel helpless,” “I am worried that I am going to die”) for both English‐ and Spanish‐speaking patients. ED Threat Perceptions demonstrated convergent validity, correlating with ED stress and ED crowdedness (rs = .29, .14), good internal consistency (α = .82), and stability (r = .61). Threat Perceptions were associated with cardiac‐induced acute stress at inpatient and PTSD symptoms at one month (rs = .43, .39).


This brief tool assessing ED Threat Perceptions has clinical utility for providers to identify patients at risk for developing cardiac‐induced PTSD and is critical to inform research on whether threat may be modified in‐ED to reduce PTSD incidence.

Hot Topics: Physicians in Small Practices Burn Out Less

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Psychology and Psychiatry, Research and Scholarly Communication

Correlates of Burnout in Small Independent Primary Care Practices in an Urban Setting

Blechter B, Jiang N, Cleland C, Berry C, Ogedegbe O, Shelley D. Correlates of burnout in small independent primary care practices in an urban setting. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2018;31(4):529-536. http://www.doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2018.04.170360.

Background: Little is known about the prevalence and correlates of burnout among providers who work in small independent primary care practices (<5 providers).

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis by using data collected from 235 providers practicing in 174 small independent primary care practices in New York City.

Results: The rate of provider-reported burnout was 13.5%. Using bivariate logistic regression, we found higher adaptive reserve scores were associated with lower odds of burnout (odds ratio, 0.12; 95% CI, 0.02–0.85; P = .034).

Conclusion: The burnout rate was relatively low among our sample of providers compared with previous surveys that focused primarily on larger practices. The independence and autonomy providers have in these small practices may provide some protection against symptoms of burnout. In addition, the relationship between adaptive reserve and lower rates of burnout point toward potential interventions for reducing burnout that include strengthening primary care practices’ learning and development capacity.

Hot Topics: Orientation and Gender Assumptions Can Harm Patient/Doctor Relationship

Jackie Werner Ethics, Hot Topics in Research, Psychology and Psychiatry

Provider Perspectives on the Application of Patient Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Clinical Care: A Qualitative Study

Dichter ME, Ogden SN, Scheffey KL. Provider perspectives on the application of patient sexual orientation and gender identity in clinical care: A qualitative study. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-018-4489-4.

The federal government and other organizations have recommended that healthcare institutions collect and document patient sexual orientation and gender identity (SO/GI) information in order to advance the understanding of the health of sexual and gender minority populations and to combat existing health disparities. Little is known, however, about provider perception of the clinical relevance of, or how they might use, patient SO/GI information in individual care.

To explore providers’ perspectives on and experiences with collection of patient SO/GI information and how the knowledge of this information may impact clinical care.

Qualitative study using in-depth individual interviews of healthcare providers.

Twenty-five healthcare providers, including physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, from the fields of family medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, and urology within a single healthcare system in an east coast city.

Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were coded and analyzed using principles of grounded theory and thematic analysis to identify themes emerging from the data.

Key results
Providers recognized the importance of collecting patient SO/GI information for understanding population-level public health concerns and disparities, as well as understanding and respecting the context of patients’ lives. However, providers also emphasized the importance of knowing patients’ sexual behaviors and physical anatomy for addressing health risk and preventive care needs—and noted the distinction between these characteristics and patient SO/GI. Providers cautioned that assumptions based on knowledge of patient SO/GI may unintentionally obscure accurate profiles of patient behavior and anatomy.

Along with the potential benefits of routine collection of patient SO/GI, it is important that providers continue to inquire about patient behaviors and anatomy to inform individual risk and needs assessments. Findings from this study can inform the development of guidelines, trainings, and practices for incorporation of patient SO/GI along with existing assessment practices to improve individual and population health.

Hot Topics: Communication Difficulties in Children with Autism Linked to Suicidal Behavior

Jackie Werner Developmental Disorders, Hot Topics in Research, Pediatrics

Autistic Traits and Suicidal Thoughts, Plans, and Self-Harm in Late Adolescence: Population-Based Cohort Study

Culpin I, Mars B, Pearson RM, et al. Autistic traits and suicidal thoughts, plans, and self-harm in late adolescence: Population-based cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2018;57(5):320.e6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2018.01.023.

To examine the hypothesis that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) diagnosis and traits in childhood are associated with suicidal thoughts, plans and self-harm at 16 years, and that any observed associations are explained by depression at 12 years.

We examined associations between ASD diagnosis and 4 dichotomized ASD traits (social communication, pragmatic language, repetitive behavior, and sociability) with suicidal and nonsuicidal self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal plans at age 16 years in 5,031 members of the United Kingdom−based birth cohort study the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We assessed whether any associations were explained by depressive symptoms in early adolescence measured by the Short Moods and Feelings Questionnaire at 12 years.

Children with impaired social communication had a higher risk of self-harm with suicidal intent (relative risk [RR] = 2.14, 95% CI = 1.28–3.58), suicidal thoughts (RR = 1.42, 95% CI = 1.06–1.91), and suicidal plans (RR = 1.95, 95% CI = 1.09–3.47) by age 16 years as compared to those without. There was no evidence for an association between ASD diagnosis and outcomes, although these analyses were imprecise because of small numbers. There was also no evidence of an association between other autism traits and the outcomes. Approximately 32% of the total estimated association between social communication impairment and self-harm was explained by depressive symptoms at 12 years.

Social communication impairments are an important autistic trait in relation to suicidality. Early identification and management of depression may be a preventative mechanism, and future research identifying other potentially modifiable mechanisms may lead to interventions against suicidal behavior in this high-risk group.

Hot Topics: Treating Depression May Counteract Cognitive Impairments

Jackie Werner Alzheimer Disease, Geriatrics, Hot Topics in Research, Mood Disorders

Neuropsychiatric Symptoms and the Diagnostic Stability of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Sugarman MA, Alosco ML, Tripodis Y, Steinberg EG, Stern RA. Neuropsychiatric symptoms and the diagnostic stability of mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2018:1-15. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170527.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate diagnosis between normal cognition (NC) and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) dementia. However, MCI is heterogeneous; many individuals subsequently revert to NC while others remain stable at MCI for several years. Identifying factors associated with this diagnostic instability could assist in defining clinical populations and determining cognitive prognoses.

The current study examined whether neuropsychiatric symptoms could partially account for the temporal instability in cognitive diagnoses.

The sample included 6,763 participants from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Uniform Data Set. All participants had NC at baseline, completed at least two follow-up visits (mean duration: 5.5 years), and had no recent neurological conditions. Generalized linear models estimated by generalized estimating equations examined associations between changes in cognitive diagnoses and symptoms on the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire (NPI-Q) and Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS-15).

1,121 participants converted from NC to MCI; 324 reverted back to NC and 242 progressed to AD dementia. Higher symptoms on the GDS-15 and circumscribed symptom domains on the NPI-Q were associated with conversion from NC to MCI and a decreased likelihood of reversion from MCI to NC. Individuals with higher symptoms on NPI-Q Hyperactivity and Mood items were more likely to progress to AD dementia.

The temporal instability of MCI can be partially explained by neuropsychiatric symptoms. Individuals with higher levels of specific symptoms are more likely to progress to AD dementia and less likely to revert to NC. Identification and treatment of these symptoms might support cognitive functioning in older adults.




Hot Topics: NIH Releases Big Data for Brain Development Research

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Neurology, Pediatrics, Psychology and Psychiatry

NIH releases first dataset from unprecedented study of adolescent brain development

National Institutes of Health. (2018, February 13). NIH releases first dataset from unprecedented study of adolescent brain development [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-releases-first-dataset-unprecedented-study-adolescent-brain-development.

The National Institutes of Health Tuesday released to the scientific community an unparalleled dataset from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. To date, more than 7,500 youth and their families have been recruited for the study, well over half the participant goal.  Approximately 30 terabytes of data (about three times the size of the Library of Congress collection), obtained from the first 4,500 participants, will be available to scientists worldwide to conduct research on the many factors that influence brain, cognitive, social, and emotional development. The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

Hot Topics: Ineffective Arthritis Drug Could Treat Opioid Addiction

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Substance Use Disorders

Slowly Signaling G Protein–Biased CB2 Cannabinoid Receptor Agonist LY2828360 Suppresses Neuropathic Pain with Sustained Efficacy and Attenuates Morphine Tolerance and Dependence

Lin X, Dhopeshwarkar AS, Huibregtse M, Mackie K, Hohmann AG. Slowly Signaling G Protein–Biased CB2 Cannabinoid Receptor Agonist LY2828360 Suppresses Neuropathic Pain with Sustained Efficacy and Attenuates Morphine Tolerance and Dependence. Mol Pharmacol. 2018;93:49-62; doi: 10.1124/mol.117.109355.

The CB2 cannabinoid agonist LY2828360 lacked both toxicity and efficacy in a clinical trial for osteoarthritis. Whether LY2828360 suppresses neuropathic pain has not been reported, and its signaling profile is unknown. In vitro, LY2828360 was a slowly acting but efficacious G protein–biased CB2 agonist, inhibiting cAMP accumulation and activating extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 signaling while failing to recruit arrestin, activate inositol phosphate signaling, or internalize CB2 receptors. In wild-type (WT) mice, LY2828360 (3 mg/kg per day i.p. × 12 days) suppressed chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain produced by paclitaxel without producing tolerance. Antiallodynic efficacy of LY2828360 was absent in CB2 knockout (KO) mice. Morphine (10 mg/kg per day i.p. × 12 days) tolerance developed in CB2KO mice but not in WT mice with a history of LY2828360 treatment (3 mg/kg per day i.p. × 12 days). LY2828360-induced antiallodynic efficacy was preserved in WT mice previously rendered tolerant to morphine (10 mg/kg per day i.p. × 12 days), but it was absent in morphine-tolerant CB2KO mice. Coadministration of LY2828360 (0.1 mg/kg per day i.p. × 12 days) with morphine (10 mg/kg per day × 12 days) blocked morphine tolerance in WT but not in CB2KO mice. WT mice that received LY2828360 coadministered with morphine exhibited a trend (P = 0.055) toward fewer naloxone-precipitated jumps compared with CB2KO mice. In conclusion, LY2828360 is a slowly signaling, G protein–biased CB2 agonist that attenuates chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain without producing tolerance and may prolong effective opioid analgesia while reducing opioid dependence. LY2828360 may be useful as a first-line treatment in chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain and may be highly efficacious in neuropathic pain states that are refractive to opioid analgesics.

Hot Topics: Key Molecule Found To Protect Brain From Depression

Jackie Werner Hot Topics in Research, Mood Disorders, Psychology and Psychiatry

Loss of eIF4E Phosphorylation Engenders Depression-like Behaviors via Selective mRNA Translation

Amorim IS, Kedia S, Kouloulia S, et al. Loss of eIF4E phosphorylation engenders depression-like behaviors via selective mRNA translation. J Neurosci. 2018;38(8):2118-2133. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2673-17.2018.

The MAPK/ERK (mitogen-activated protein kinases/extracellular signal-regulated kinase) pathway is a cardinal regulator of synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory in the hippocampus. One of major endpoints of this signaling cascade is the 5′ mRNA cap binding protein eIF4E (eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E), which is phosphorylated on Ser 209 by MNK (MAPK-interacting protein kinases) and controls mRNA translation. The precise role of phospho-eIF4E in the brain is yet to be determined. Herein, we demonstrate that ablation of eIF4E phosphorylation in male mice (4Eki mice) does not impair long-term spatial or contextual fear memory, or the late phase of LTP. Using unbiased translational profiling in mouse brain, we show that phospho-eIF4E differentially regulates the translation of a subset of mRNAs linked to inflammation, the extracellular matrix, pituitary hormones, and the serotonin pathway. Consequently, 4Eki male mice display exaggerated inflammatory responses and reduced levels of serotonin, concomitant with depression and anxiety-like behaviors. Remarkably, eIF4E phosphorylation is required for the chronic antidepressant action of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine. Finally, we propose a novel phospho-eIF4E-dependent translational control mechanism in the brain, via the GAIT complex (gamma IFN activated inhibitor of translation). In summary, our work proposes a novel translational control mechanism involved in the regulation of inflammation and depression, which could be exploited to design novel therapeutics.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT We demonstrate that downstream of the MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway, eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E (eIF4E) Ser209 phosphorylation is not required for classical forms of hippocampal LTP and memory. We reveal a novel role for eIF4E phosphorylation in inflammatory responses and depression-like behaviors. eIF4E phosphorylation is required for the chronic action of antidepressants, such as fluoxetine in mice. These phenotypes are accompanied by selective translation of extracellular matrix, pituitary hormones, and serotonin pathway genes, in eIF4E phospho-mutant mice. We also describe a previously unidentified translational control mechanism in the brain, whereby eIF4E phosphorylation is required for inhibiting the translation of gamma IFN activated inhibitor of translation element-containing mRNAs. These findings can be used to design novel therapeutics for depression.