Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry


The first study of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-assisted therapy for the treatment of social anxiety in autistic adults commenced in the spring of 2014. The search for psychotherapeutic options for autistic individuals is imperative considering the lack of effective conventional treatments for mental health diagnoses that are common in this population. Serious Adverse Events (SAEs) involving administration of MDMA in clinical trials have been rare and non-life threatening. To date, MDMA has been administered to over 1133 individuals for research purposes without the occurrence of unexpected drug-related SAEs that require expedited reporting per FDA regulations. Now that safety parameters for limited use of MDMA in clinical settings have been established, a case can be made to further develop MDMA-assisted therapeutic interventions that could support autistic adults in increasing social adaptability among the typically developing population. As in the case with classic hallucinogens and other psychedelic drugs, MDMA catalyzes shifts towards openness and introspection that do not require ongoing administration to achieve lasting benefits. This infrequent dosing mitigates adverse event frequency and improves the risk/benefit ratio of MDMA, which may provide a significant advantage over medications that require daily dosing. Consequently, clinicians could employ new treatment models for social anxiety or similar types of distress administering MDMA on one to several occasions within the context of a supportive and integrative psychotherapy protocol.

Concepts: Clinical psychology, Serotonin, Psychedelic drug, Clinical research, Psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants, Psychotherapy, Adverse event, Clinical trial


“K2” and “Spice” drugs (collectively hereafter referred to as Spice) represent a relatively new class of designer drugs that have recently emerged as popular alternatives to marijuana, otherwise characterized as “legal highs”. These drugs are readily available on the Internet and sold in many head shops and convenience stores under the disguise of innocuous products like herbal blends, incense, or air fresheners. Although package labels indicate “not for human consumption”, the number of intoxicated people presenting to emergency departments is dramatically increasing. The lack of validated and standardized human testing procedures and an endless supply of potential drugs of abuse are primary reasons why researchers find it difficult to fully characterize clinical consequences associated with Spice. While the exact chemical composition and toxicology of Spice remains to be determined, there is mounting evidence identifying several synthetic cannabinoids as causative agents responsible for psychoactive and adverse physical effects. This review provides updates of the legal status of common synthetic cannabinoids detected in Spice and analytical procedures used to test Spice products and human specimens collected under a variety of clinical circumstances. The pharmacological and toxicological consequences of synthetic cannabinoid abuse are also reviewed to provide a future perspective on potential short- and long-term implications.

Concepts: Psychoactive drug, The Canon of Medicine, Cannabis, Recreational drug use, Pharmacology, HU-210, Cannabinoid


Psychologists, quality of life and well-being researchers have grown increasingly interested in understanding the factors that are associated with human happiness. Although twin studies estimate that genetic factors account for 35-50% of the variance in human happiness, knowledge of specific genes is limited. However, recent advances in molecular genetics can now provide a window into neurobiological markers of human happiness. This investigation examines association between happiness and monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of a population-based cohort, followed for three decades. In women, low expression of MAOA (MAOA-L) was related significantly to greater happiness (0.261 SD increase with one L-allele, 0.522 SD with two L-alleles, P=0.002) after adjusting for the potential effects of age, education, household income, marital status, employment status, mental disorder, physical health, relationship quality, religiosity, abuse history, recent negative life events and self-esteem use in linear regression models. In contrast, no such association was found in men. This new finding may help explain the gender difference on happiness and provide a link between MAOA and human happiness.

Concepts: Evolution, DNA, Happiness, Linear regression, Biology, Gene, Monoamine oxidase, Genetics


Benztropine (BZT) analogs, a family of agents with high affinity for the dopamine transporter have been postulated as potential treatments in stimulant abuse due to their ability to attenuate a wide range of effects evoked by psychomotor stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine (AMPH). Repeating administration of drugs, including stimulants, can result in behavioural sensitization, a progressive increase in their psychomotor activating effects. We examined in mice the sensitizing effects and the neuroplasticity changes elicited by chronic AMPH exposure, and the modulation of these effects by the BZT derivative and atypical dopamine uptake inhibitor, JHW007, a candidate medication for stimulant abuse. The results indicated that JHW007 did not produce sensitized locomotor activity when given alone but prevented the sensitized motor behavior induced by chronic AMPH administration. Morphological analysis of medium spiny neurons of the nucleus accumbens revealed that JHW 007 prevented the neuroadaptations induced by chronic AMPH exposure, including increments in dendritic arborization, lengthening of dendritic processes and increases in spine density. Furthermore, data revealed that AMPH produced an increase in the density of asymmetric, possibly glutamatergic synapses in the nucleus accumbens, an effect that was also blocked by JHW007 pretreatment. The present observations demonstrate that JHW007 is able to prevent not only AMPH-induced behavioural sensitization but also the long-term structural changes induced by chronic AMPH in the nucleus accumbens. Such findings support the development and evaluation of BZT derivatives as possible leads for treatment in stimulant addiction.

Concepts: Recreational drug use, Methamphetamine, Nicotine, Cocaine, Dopamine reuptake inhibitor, Nucleus accumbens, Neuron, Dopamine


Alcoholism is a chronic psychiatric disorder affecting neural pathways that regulate motivation, stress, reward and arousal. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) regulates mood, response to stress and interacts with neurotransmitters and stress systems involved in reward pathways and addiction. Aim of the study was to evaluate the association between a single nucleotide polymorphism (BDNF Val66Met or rs6265) and alcohol related phenotypes in Caucasian patients. In ethnically homogenous Caucasian subjects of the Croatian origin, the BDNF Val66Met genotype distribution was determined in 549 male and 126 female patients with alcohol dependence and in 655 male and 259 female healthy non-alcoholic control subjects. Based on the structured clinical interview, additional detailed clinical interview, the Brown-Goodwin Scale, the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression and the Clinical Global Impression scores, alcoholic patients were subdivided into those with or without comorbid depression, aggression, delirium tremens, withdrawal syndrome, early/late onset of alcohol abuse, prior suicidal attempt during lifetime, current suicidal behavior, and severity of alcohol dependence. The results showed no significant association between BDNF Val66Met variants and alcohol dependence and/or any of the alcohol related phenotypes in either Caucasian women, or men, with alcohol dependence. There are few limitations of the study. The overall study sample size was large (N=1589) but not well-powered to detect differences in BDNF Val66Met genotype distribution between studied groups. Healthy control women were older than female alcoholic patients. Only one BDNF polymorphism (rs6265) was studied. In conclusion, these data do not support the view that BDNF Val66Met polymorphism correlates with the specific alcohol related phenotypes in ethnically homogenous medication-free Caucasian subjects with alcohol dependence.

Concepts: Psychiatry, Drug addiction, Withdrawal, Delirium tremens, Alcohol abuse, Alcohol withdrawal syndrome, Addiction, Alcoholism


The complex pathogenesis of anxiety and panic disorder in particular has been suggested to be influenced by genetic factors such as the adenosine A2A receptor gene (ADORA2A) 1976T>C polymorphism (rs5751876) as well as neuropsychological factors such as early information processing deficits. In 114 healthy individuals (males=57, females=57) controlled for anxiety sensitivity (AS), a multi-level risk model of the development of anxiety was applied: Genetic (ADORA2A 1976T>C variant) and biochemical (300mg of caffeine citrate vs. placebo) factors were hypothesized to influence early information processing as measured by the prepulse inhibition/facilitation paradigm (stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) of 60, 120, 240, 480 and 2000ms between prepulses and startle stimuli). A fourfold interaction of genotype, intervention, gender, and SOAs was discerned. Stratification by SOAs revealed that at 120ms and 240ms SOAs in the caffeine condition, PPI was impaired in female ADORA2A 1976TT risk genotype carriers as compared to male ADORA2A 1976TT homozygotes, while no significant effects were observed in the ADORA2A 1976CC/CT non-risk genotype or placebo group. Only in high anxiety sensitive probands, a significant intervention effect was discerned with impaired prepulse facilitation (PPF) due to caffeine. The present results point to an impaired ability to selectively process very early information and to gate irrelevant sensory information, respectively, in female ADORA2A 1976TT homozygotes in response to caffeine, providing further evidence for the adenosinergic system to be involved in the pathogenesis of anxiety.

Concepts: Panic attack, Adenosine A1 receptor, Prepulse inhibition, Sensory system, Genetics, Panic disorder, Caffeine, Adenosine receptor


There is growing evidence supporting a multifactorial etiology that includes genetic, neurochemical, and physiological components for eating disorders above and beyond the more conventional theories based on psychological and sociocultural factors. Ghrelin is one of the key gut signals associated with appetite, and the only known circulating hormone that triggers a positive energy balance by stimulating food intake. This review summarizes recent findings and several conflicting reports on ghrelin in eating disorders. Understanding these findings and inconsistencies may help in developing new methods to prevent and treat patients with these disorders.

Concepts: The Canon of Medicine, Anorectic, Food, Appetite, Philosophy of science, Eating, Greek loanwords, Nutrition


Metabolic abnormalities are serious adverse effects of atypical antipsychotic treatment. This study aims to determine the effects of adjunctive aripiprazole on metabolic profiles among patients receiving treatment with atypical antipsychotics, and to examine whether these effects are different from that of pre-existing atypical antipsychotics. In the 8-week open-label trial, aripiprazole was added to patients who were receiving treatment with atypical antipsychotics and had experienced weight gain or dyslipidemia. The dosage of pre-existing atypical antipsychotics was fixed, while the dosage of aripiprazole ranged from 5 to 20mg/day during the study period. Metabolic profiles, including body weight, body mass index (BMI), plasma levels of fasting glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, and adiponectin, were measured at baseline and week 8. As a result, 43 subjects (16 males and 27 females, mean age: 37.8±10.8years) completed the study. The pre-existing antipsychotics were olanzapine (n=12), risperidone (n=19), quetiapine (n=6) and amisulpiride (n=6). The mean dosage of adjunctive aripiprazole was 9.9±3.2mg/day. After the aripiprazole-augmented regimen for 8weeks, patients treated with olanzapine had significant decreases in body weight, BMI and triglyceride levels, and had significant increases in adiponectin levels. For patients treated with other atypical antipsychotics, none of the metabolic parameters significantly changed after administering aripiprazole. In conclusion, aripiprazole-augmented treatment might be beneficial for the metabolic regulation of patients being treated with a stable dose of olanzapine, but not for those treated with other atypical antipsychotics. A long-term, randomized, double-blind controlled design is suggested to confirm these findings.

Concepts: Amisulpride, Schizophrenia, Body mass index, Clozapine, Risperidone, Tardive dyskinesia, Antipsychotic, Atypical antipsychotic


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is clinically heterogeneous. The aim of this study was to investigate differential neural responses to a symptom provocation task in drug-free patients who have predominantly aggression/checking symptoms (Checkers) and patients with contamination/washing symptoms (Washers). We compared the Checkers (n=10) and the Washers (n=12) separately to normal controls during the symptom provocation tasks using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Moreover, we performed correlative analysis in each OCD group between brain activation and symptom severity. The Checkers showed hypoactivation in the left caudate and left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) compared to the normal controls and a positive correlation between activated brain areas and symptom severity in the left ACC. The Washers showed hyperactivation in several bilateral cortico-cerebellar regions and a positive correlation between symptom severity and the bilateral fronto-temporal gyrus. We suggest that the caudate and ACC are associated with checking rituals and that large cortical brain regions are related to washing rituals.

Concepts: Cingulate cortex, Cerebral cortex, Brain, Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Brodmann area 24, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Anterior cingulate cortex


Background and purpose Growing scientific evidence indicates that there is a correlation between depression and alternations in the immune system. The main aim of the study was to investigate serum levels of Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) in melancholic and atypical depressive patients during acute exacerbations of illness, compared to healthy subjects. The secondary aim was to explore a possible association between cytokine levels and clinical characteristics, as well as total duration of prior antidepressant treatment. METHOD: We measured serum levels of IL-6 and TNF- ffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) (29 melancholic and 18 atypical) in exacerbation of illness, compared to 39 healthy controls, matched by sex, body mass index (BMI) and smoking habits. Serum levels of IL-6 and TNF-were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The severity of psychopathology was assessed using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). RESULTS: IL-6 was significantly elevated in melancholic depressive patients (MDD-M) compared to healthy controls, while no difference was found between the patients with atypical depression (MDD-A) and the healthy group. Lower TNF-α serum level was found both in melancholic and in patients with atypical depression, compared with healthy subjects. We detected a positive correlation between cytokine levels in atypical, but not in melancholic subjects. Sex, age, smoking habits and BMI were not associated to cytokine levels in neither group. Clinical parameters (duration of illness, current episode, age of onset) were related to cytokine levels in atypical depression, while the duration of lifetime exposure to antidepressant treatment correlated to IL-6 serum levels in both melancholic and atypical depression. CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that the difference in pro-inflammatory cytokine levels could reflect a biological difference between melancholic and atypical depression. A positive correlation between the cytokines (TNF-α and IL-6) observed in depressive patients with atypical features, might be influenced by chronic course of illness, while IL-6 elevation could represent a state indicator for acute exacerbation, especially in melancholic patients. Total duration of antidepressant treatment could be a relevant factor influencing the immune status of patients who suffer either from melancholic or atypical depression.

Concepts: Depression, Sertraline, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Dysthymia, Bipolar disorder, Antibody, Atypical depression, Major depressive disorder