Thursday, March 12, 2009

Recent Reading

So, by way of adding to my chronicle, I just finished Synaptic Self by Joseph LeDoux. It deftly deals with the extremely complex nature of mental mechanisms, ranging from neurophysiology to bio-chemistry, from psychology to psychotropic drugs.

Since there are already several good reviews, I’ll just quote a passage from the last chapter, which touches on some of the topics covered throughout—to give a sense of its style and content:

Because modulatory systems are activated during significant experiences, modulators can selectively facilitate transmission at the synapses actively processing information about such experiences across widely distributed neural systems. Emotional or otherwise significant experiences are the ones we tend to form memories about, and as described in chapter 8, it is well established that modulators like norepinephrine are involved in the enhancement of memory that occurs during emotional events. Norepinephrine has also been implicated in the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP), which, as we’ve seen, is a laboratory procedure for studying synaptic plasticity. Thus, LTP is facilitated when this chemical is present, and disrupted when it is absent. So not only can modulators produce a momentary facilitation of transmission in circuits actively involved in processing significant events, they can also promote synaptic plasticity, and thus learning and memory, in those circuits. Recall that one of the most prominent current theories supporting monoamine treatment of mental disorders is that these drugs make more serotonin and/or norepinephrine available at synapses and thereby trigger intracellular cascades that promote synaptic plasticity. Modulation of plasticity across brain systems is thus important in both normal and pathological mental conditions.