What’s the News: Retrieving a memory in your brain is a bit like taking an old keepsake off the shelf. If you get startled while holding grandma’s old vase in your hands, you could drop and break it. Memory retrieval is just as vulnerable to disruption, and scientists have tried to exploit this fact to erase PTSD-associated memories with drugs.
A new study in Science tries a different tack, using a behavioral approach to rid people of addictions to drugs. Addiction is sometimes treated with “extinction,” which means showing patients drug-related images while they’re off drugs, so that, for example, they stop associating needles with a high. The researchers found that retrieving drug memories right before an extinction session—basically, giving them a short exposure to drug-related stimulus, followed by a similar but longer exposure session—made the treatment more effective in both rats and humans.
What’s the News: Epidemiologists have long noticed that people with drug addictions often start out smoking cigarettes before moving on to harder stuff. Whether that’s because there’s something about cigarettes that makes people vulnerable to other drugs or because certain kinds of people are predisposed to addiction (or for some other reason entirely) is an open question, and the idea of so-called “gateway drugs” has been a controversial topic in addiction for years. Now, an elegant new study in mice has discovered a mechanism that could explain the gateway drug effect: nicotine actually changes the expression of genes linked to addiction.
Plenty has changed since the last update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the operating manual for psychiatrists, was published in 1994. With the new fifth version set for a 2013 release, the task force behind the update released its recommended changes for public comment this week, and comments will likely come in droves.
The proposed changes touch many of the psychiatric issues that get people the most riled up. For example, the four separate diagnoses related to autism — autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified — would now be referred to as autism spectrum disorders [Los Angeles Times].
That won’t sit well with many people who have Asperger’s, Geraldine Dawson of the advocacy group Autism Speaks tells the Los Angeles Times, because they see their condition as something distinct from the others. People with Asperger’s usually don’t have the cognitive and verbal problems that often come with autism, and they can have savant-like abilities. Some scientists are displeased as well. “By massively pathologizing people under these categories, you tend to put them on an automatic path to medication, even if they are experiencing normal distress,” said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work and psychiatry at New York University [Washington Post].