Living on the Molecular Neuroscience Side-Street in the Brain Borough

This entry will not sound as elegant as Jenn’s and Hannah’s2 posts. So, here goes nothing!

I will admit that I never ever stop at the intersection; I always end up on the molecular neuroscience side-street in the Brain Borough. That being said, this article really helped me to appreciate the interdisciplinary approach to these brain/behavior problems. For example, with the explosion of research on depression, scientist have almost accepted that Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction is the underlying cause of depression due to the hypersecretion of corticosterone (if you’re a rat)/ cortisol (if you’re a human). On the other hand, research suggests that interferon-alpha (IFN)-α (a cytokine produced in the immune system) upregulation may also induce depression. Do we say that immune system dysfunction is the biological basis of depression? Or HPA dysfunction is the reason people get depressed. No. Why? Perhaps it is the same reason why we do not say that people choose to get depressed. We cannot reduce these problems to biology or psychology because creating this hierarchy forces us to miss a huge chunk of the puzzle. I agree with Miller and Keller; we should view biology as implementing psychology. On a side note, I wonder if this problem will ever get any better. It is almost like the constant debate between philosophers and psychologists.

Note: I am a hypocrite because I always overlook behavior and jump to brain. I might even panic a little when Professors force me to look at behavioral paradigms.

Check out this quote from Miller and Keller:

“Biology and Psychology often are set up as competitors for public mind-share, research funding, and scientific legitimacy. We are not arguing for a psychological explanation of cognition and emotion instead of a biological explanation. Rather, we are arguing against framing biology and psychology in a way that forces a choice between those kinds of explanations.”

What does this sound like? It sounds like our friends Miller and Keller are moving toward the ‘mind’ versus ‘brain’ debate. Perhaps this entire intersection is at the heart of the mind versus brain debate. If someone experiences chronic depression, does it make sense to reduce his/her symptoms to neurotransmitter imbalance and administer selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and/or electroconvulsive therapy? Or is it simply a “mind” problem that can be resolved via intense cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling? The answer probably lies in a beautiful drug-psychotherapy cocktail! Overall, the article was informative. I’m with Jenn. Is it mind over matter?

4 thoughts on “Living on the Molecular Neuroscience Side-Street in the Brain Borough

  1. I’m totally with you on the cocktail Sharonda (and no, not the tasty kind).

    First of all, I really appreciate your use of molecular neuroscience to give us all a little bit more perspective on the issue at hand. For most of us (or maybe I am just speaking for myself) I get a little nervous when aspects of the immune system and/or anything ending in -ase get thrown into the mix. However, I think that these are valid things to consider in addition to the psychology v. biology debate. These things are incredibly complex–and we need to appreciate this.

    As for Mind Over Matter…I cannot count the times my mother use to say it when I was younger and I had a nervous stomach ache. “Mind over matter, Jennifer–it’s all in your head” she used to say. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was just nervous, which had an effect on my biology. Maybe the initial nervousness of my mood and disposition (read: psychology) created biological changes in my brain. And perhaps the reason I may now have a ‘biological’ aspect of my ‘illness’ is because of the initial ‘psychological’ aspect. Could this be applied as logic? Can we even say one can lead to the other? Will we ever get answers?!


  2. These titles are giving me goosebumps :). Sharonda, despite your pretty even treatment of the issue you still reminded me of what an important thing neuro brings to this table. But I’m a psychologist. The trick (in my view) is getting non-psychologists to get excited about psych brings to their neuro table. Well that has been the challenge I confront the most. As raised briefly in the paper in the bit on NIH funding.


  3. Well, I’ll admit that I didn’t understand a lot of the terms you used, but I think I got the gist of it! As you mentioned, the two perspectives are so different on treatment- purely medication v. purely “talking it out”. It’s funny that in the face of lots of evidence that says a combination of the two is most effective, both psychologists and biologists are still choosing solely their own area of expertise. Talk about biased! Maybe just because of classes I’ve taken, but it seems almost common knowledge (at least in the psych dept) that combination therapy usually proves most effective…how can so many people continually ignore this?


  4. People are so stubborn! And I realize that there are so many different names for this same debate: mind vs brain, brain vs behavior, psychology vs biology, psychotherapy vs medication… it really is a complex argument. I wonder where the argument stems from, why can’t we just admit that everyone is different and that different treatments produce different results in patients?


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