Eric Kandel’s reasons to be cheerful

Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel has been asked to describe four advances in neuroscience from the past year that inspire optimism in an article for Edge.

His choices demonstrate an eclectic interest in modern mind and brain science.

The first is the discovery that MicroRNA is involved in synaptic connections and the second is advances in the understanding of how the hippocampus might store spatial information.

Kandel’s third choice is the discovery that single genes might lead to quite profound changes in social behaviour.

Perhaps his fourth choice is the most interesting, however. He cites neuroscientific evidence for the effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating mental illness, particularly for a type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

CBT is the most comprehensively researched of all the psychotherapies.

It has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than medication for anxiety and depressive disorders in randomised controlled trials, although best results are usually reported when both medication and CBT are combined, particularly in moderate or severe cases.

Recently, researchers have started to use brain scanning techniques to see how the function of the brain changes after CBT treatment.

Link to Kandel’s article ‘A Neuroscience Sampling’ from Edge.

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