Hello and welcome to another edition of Best 5 Reads. I hope you enjoy them.
The long-held dogma that “anatomy is destiny” is fraying at the edges. The traditional nature vs nurture debate has also undergone a major transformation into a gene-by-environment interaction, abbreviated as GxE in the medical literature.1,2 This is as true for psychiatric brain disorders as for any other medical illness.
The pessimistic determinism of “anatomy is destiny” has given way to a much more optimistic perspective, especially for the most plastic of all organs, the human brain. While genes are essential to construct one’s anatomy, environmental factors can significantly modulate gene expression. A person’s life experiences, good or bad, can wield a lasting influence on one’s brain structure and function, often transcending what is coded by the genome. For the mind, its thoughts, emotions, and cognition, the neurogenetic “tyranny” can be curbed or modified by one’s experiences. This epigenetic process is alive and well and known to be mediated by DNA methylation and histone modifications.
Consider the following examples of how genes are not the sole determinants of one’s mental health:
A landmark study conducted in New Zealand3 followed a cohort of 847 individuals from age 3 to 26. Researchers recorded stressful life events for each participant, including romantic breakups, grief, medical illness, or employment problems, between age 21 and 26. Participants were evaluated for depressive episodes and hospitalizations and their genes tested for whether each individual carried the short (S) or long (L) allele of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene. They found that when life stresses occurred, the probability of depression was much higher among the subgroup who were SS homozygous than among the LL homozygous subgroup. Thus, the genetic vulnerability to depression did not manifest itself unless adverse environmental events occurred. This is a classic example of GxE interaction, where genes alone are insufficient to produce a psychiatric disorder without environmental events interacting with them and triggering the psychopathology.
56 percent of Americans don’t get the help they need. Here are eight ways to find mental health services at little to no cost.
The assistants recommend a suicide hotline, but only if you’re straightforward.
In the future, emotional recognition may help assistants detect if people are about to hurt themselves or others, experts say.
Use of an auditory-based computerized cognitive training program for severely ill patients with schizophrenia can improve their auditory discrimination, cognitive functioning, and positive symptoms, new research shows.
Pooled results from six double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 2 trials show benefit for adding MDMA, also known as ecstasy, to psychotherapy for chronic posttraumatic stress disorder.
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