Report on Progress

Science Advisor: Joseph T. Coyle, M.D., Harvard Medical School
Editors: Nicky Penttila and Barbara Rich, Ed.D.

April 2015

What Were You Thinking?! – Understanding the Neurobiology of the Teen Brain

By Marisa M. Silveri, Ph.D.
Wrong-headed teen behavior isn’t due necessarily a lack of knowing right from wrong, but rather an inability to hold back the wrong answer or behavior.

March 2015

Unraveling the Complexity of Schizophrenia Genetics

By Rebecca Birnbaum, M.D., and Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D.
Our understanding of the biological mechanisms of schizophrenia risk has steadily evolved over the past few decades, attributable largely to advances in human genetics and to genomic technologies.

February 2015

Disorders of Consciousness: Brain Death, Coma, and the Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States

By Thomas I. Cochrane, M.D., MBA, and Michael A. Williams, M.D., FAAN
The authors present two scenarios on what are the disorders of consciousness: wakefulness, awareness, consciousness, coma ,vegetative state, minimally conscious state, and brain death.

October 2014

Truth, Lies, and False Memories: Neuroscience in the Courtroom

By Craig Stark, Ph.D.
How neuroscience and particularly neuroimaging is being used in the court system and where the red flags are for scientists and the public.

September 2014

Placebo Effects Offer Window to Individual Differences in Treatment Response

By Jon-Kar Zubieta
The so-called placebo effect is defined as a psychological experience of improvement in health after the administration of an inert substance or a sham physical treatment such as sham surgery, along with verbal suggestions (or any other cue) of clinical benefit.

August 2014

Why Studies of Fighting Fruit Flies Are Relevant to Understanding Human Aggression

By David J. Anderson, Ph.D.
Even though the brain of a fly doesn’t look like our own brain, it appears to follow certain basic principles in how it uses its neurons to control behavior, which may generalize to “higher” organisms, including humans.

June 2014

Using Optogenetics and Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs)

By Christie D. Fowler, Ph.D., Brian Lee, Ph.D., and Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D.
Emerging techniques that allow researchers to control the activity of a subset of neurons are revolutionizing our understanding of how the central nervous system works. Whether to use optogenetics (light) or DREADDs (drugs) as a means to control neuronal activity depends on which question you wish to answer.

April 2014

Gene-environment Interactions in Parkinson’s Disease

By Paul Barrett, Ph.D., and J. Timothy Greenamyre, M.D, Ph.D.
An examination of the genetic cause of Parkinson’s disease and how environmental toxins may impact the development of the disease.

January 2014

Destroying the Brain through Immunity

By David Lynch, M.D., Ph.D., and Jessica Panzer, M.D., Ph.D.
The brain has long been viewed as somewhat protected from attack by the body’s immune system. Apart from the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis, in most of the brain disorders that have been studied, such as epilepsy, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the immune system was not believed to play a major role.

October 2013

Why Is Sleep So Important?

By Giulio Tononi, M.D., Ph.D., and Chiara Cirelli, MD., Ph.D.
Many recent studies have demonstrated that sleep benefits all aspects of neural plasticity. Currently under investigation are the underlying cellular mechanisms, which should explain why these benefits can only be obtained when the brain is off-line.

September 2013

Food for Thought: What Fuels Brain Cells?

By Pierre J. Magistretti, M.D., Ph.D.
The brain is a thrifty organ. It requires only 20 Watts, much like a basic household light bulb to fuel its amazing information processing power. This energetic cost is amazingly low when compared to the Megawatts required by today’s most powerful supercomputers, whose performance, particularly in terms of flexibility and learning capacities, pales when compared to the human brain.

July 2013

Persistent Failure of “Disease-Modifying” Drugs to Benefit Alzheimer Disease: Now What?

By John C. Morris, M.D.
Since 2001 there have been seven Phase III and two Phase II clinical trials in individuals with symptomatic AD of therapeutic agents that target amyloid-beta (Aβ). Why have these drugs failed and what is next in the pipeline.

May 2013

Artificial Sight: Restoration of Sight through Use of Argus II, a Bioelectronic Retinal Implant

By Mark S. Humayun, M.D., Ph.D.
More than 1 million Americans are legally blind and another 10% cannot detect light. With increased mean lifespan, the frequency of age-related eye disease will double in the next 30 years. A significant percentage of the non-treatable blindness stems from loss of photoreceptors (the rods and cones). Once photoreceptors are lost, restoring useful vision to blind patients has been impossible.

April 2013

Epigenetic Inheritance: Fact or Fiction?

By Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D.
There is an age-old adage that nature and nurture combine to control all aspects of an individual’s functioning, including risk for disease. Research over the past decade, in a still relatively new field called epigenetics, has provided a sophisticated understanding of how this occurs.

Waking Up from Coma: New Treatments, New Hope

By Clifford B. Saper, M.D., Ph.D.,
The movie Men in Black ends with a sequence where Tommy Lee Jones’ character is reported in the popular press to have awakened miraculously after 20 years in a coma. Although clinicians traditionally have scoffed at such reports, such cases do make the news now and again, and raise the question of whether and how that can happen. Recent advances provide some answers, and suggest some treatments that might promote such an outcome.

January 2013

Brain-machine Interface: A Multi-disciplinary Approach Shows Progress

By Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D.
Recent news reports have described what sounds like a miracle--restoring the ability of a paralyzed woman “to feed herself chocolate and move everyday items using a robotic arm directly controlled by thought, showing a level of agility and control approaching that of a human limb.”

December 2012

Finding a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease

By C. Warren Olanow, M.D. and AHV Schapira, M.D.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, affecting approximately 5 million persons worldwide. With the population aging, it is anticipated that the number of patients with PD will increase dramatically in the coming decades.

October 2012

The Effects of Early Life Adversity on Brain and Behavioral Development

By Charles A. Nelson, III, Ph.D.
Our genes supply the basic blueprint for brain development, but experience adjusts the underly­ing brain circuitry based on the unique environment in which each individual lives.

September 2012

Where Will New Drugs Come from to Treat Neuropsychiatric Diseases?

By Raymond Hill, FMedSCi, Imperial College London
A new report from PhRMA (medicines in development for mental illnesses) highlights the statistic that 1 in 4 American adults suffer from some form of mental illness and that this costs the US economy more than $317 billion annually. It also points out that 200 medicines are now in clinical development for mental health indications. Sadly most of these medicines are not new but are variations or re-formulations of medicines we already use and the number of really new approaches to mental illness is very small.

At Long Last, Medications for Multiple Sclerosis

By Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a common neurologic condition that usually affects individuals between the ages of 15 and 45. It is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheaths of nerve fibers of both the brain and spinal cord.

August 2012

Consequences of the Inflamed Brain

By Steven F. Maier, Ph.D. and Linda R. Watkins, Ph.D.
Conditions as varied as surgery, cancer chemotherapy, peripheral nerve damage, and heart attack can lead to poor memory, depression, fatigue, and exaggerated responses to pain.

Suicide in Professional Athletes: is it related to the sport?

By J. John Mann M.D.
If recent headlines about athletes dying by suicide have made you wonder whether progress in brain research can help shed light on the potential role in these suicides of head hits in sport, then you are right—and not just in the case of the athletes. Research on suicide across its spectrum has told us enough about the brain to greatly help in considering whether and how head trauma may have set the stage when an individual dies by suicide.

June 2012

If Addictions Can Be Treated, Why Aren’t They?

By Charles P. O’Brien, M.D., Ph.D.
The reward system is an important part of the brain, but it often receives scant attention in medical school. This neurological system is activated when we feel pleasure and it motivates us to work for and to seek out food, sex, water and other rewards.

Memory and Memory Enhancement

By Larry R. Squire, Ph.D.
Recent news reports that an electrical brain-stimulation technique improved human memory draws attention to the extraordinary progress that neuroscience has made in understanding the structure and organization of memory.

February 2012

Do Antidepressants Really Work?

By William Z. Potter, M.D., Ph.D., and Steven M. Paul, M.D.
An examination of the limitations of antidepressants and a look to the need for more effective approaches in treatment for patients.

September 2011

New Diagnostic Criteria for Alzheimer’s Disease: What do they really mean?

By David M. Holtzman, M.D.
In April 2011, new diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) were published, revising criteria that had been in place for 27 years. The new criteria are important because they shift the focus in clinical research to detecting the disease as early as possible, optimally prior to the onset of dementia.

August 2011

Autism: The Pervasive Developmental Disorder

By David G. Amaral, Ph.D.
The field of autism research has matured dramatically over the past decade with increasingly sophisticated scientists entering the quest for information with increasingly sophisticated tools.

March 2011

Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain

By Bruce S. McEwen, PhD
The recent debate in the popular press about “Tiger Mom” parenting is a timely sidebar to the exceptional progress occurring in research on development of the human brain and behavior: studies of infants and mothers are drawing a clear picture of the singular importance of early life experiences for the future adult.

December 2010

Advances in Genetics and Devices Are Helping People with Communication Disorders

By James Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.
During the past decade, scientists have made astonishing advances in the NIDCD’s mission areas of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech and language. Numerous discoveries have expanded our knowledge base amid one of the most exciting periods in the history of communication research.

It Takes a Village: Large-Scale Studies Prove Vital to Alzheimer’s Disease Research

By Richard Hodes, M.D.
During the next 25 years, the number of Americans living to age 65 is expected to double to about 72 million. Many people thrive as they age, but others experience cognitive decline wrought by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Today, as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Unless we can cure or prevent it, Alzheimer’s prevalence may triple by 2050.

Understading Mental Disorders as Circuit Disorders: Pointing the Way to New Treatments

By Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
When the Decade of the Brain began in 1990, scientists had developed both drug and behavioral treatments for most mental disorders, but their understanding of these disorders was primitive. Two decades later, neuroscientists are finally uncovering the brain processes involved in mental disorders. There is great promise for development of more effective treatments in the upcoming decade.

Basic Science and Gene Findings Drive Research

By Story Landis, Ph.D.
Remarkable advances during the Decade of the Brain set the stage for the decade that just ended, and recent findings make us optimistic that progress will accelerate.

Using Breakthroughs in Visual Neuroscience to Treat Diseases

By Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.
Advances in visual neuroscience during the past 10 years are generating a lot of excitement. The ability to record simultaneously the activity of different clusters of neurons in the eye has greatly improved our understanding of how our neural circuits process and integrate visual signals. For example, recording the impulses from clusters of retinal ganglion cells, which transmit visual input from the eye to the brain, allows researchers to characterize completely the information presented to the visual parts of the brain.

Challenges and Opportunities in Drug Addiction Research

By Nora Volkow, M.D.
Neuroscience is at a historic turning point. Today, a full decade after the “Decade of the Brain,” a continuous stream of advances is shattering long-held notions about how the human brain works and what happens when it doesn’t. These advances are also reshaping the landscapes of other fields, from psychology to economics, education and the law.

Tackling the Mysteries of Alcohol Dependence

By Kenneth Warren, Ph.D.
Why does drinking alcohol have such profound effects on people’s behavior? Why does alcohol dependence develop and persist in some people but not in others? Scientists attempt to answer these questions by studying the brain, where alcohol intoxication and dependence begin. During the past decade, advances in technology have helped us better understand how alcohol changes the brain and how those changes influence alcohol-related behaviors. In the coming decade, this knowledge will help researchers develop drug and other interventions that can reduce the high social, personal and economic costs of alcohol-related problems.