Nursing & the State of Neuroscience

As I teach this course, I consider – what is the appropriate level of learning about neuroscience for my graduate PMH-NP students?  I received my table of contents from “Nature Reviews Neuroscience”  (here is a link: – and my review of the contents sort of mirrors some of the questions I have…

  • “role of auditory cortex in auditory verbal hallucinations”  – oh – sounds interesting!
  • long term potentiation – timely topic for us!
  • ‘Neuroscience & the Law’ – or ‘Neuroscience in court’ – might be fun – have to check these out!
  • ‘Stem cells’ organizing into brain-like structure – interesting but maybe too esoteric to our purpose?
  • Neural development  & sonic hedgehog – well, we will discuss sonic hedgehog — but wow the actual title goes way beyond our level of use!
  • Neurotransmission: Timing the release… “oh perfect!” this is just the ticket – NOT!!! it is about worms!
  • Spatial processing: hmmm, maybe?  but where can I connect this in?
  • Neural Circuits: YES! but in worms again darn it!
  • Psychiatric disorders: rein in habenula –> maybe? oh in rodents – maybe?
  • Visual system: Mapping motion discrimination – oh in the fly…
  • Neuroendocrinology: Starvation –> stress responses with deprivation – in mice!
  • Memory – dentate gyrus – in mice…
  • the “in Briefs” – good reviews to offer context

I would love my students to know all about all of this! Although the state of the science is such that we have theories gaining evidence – but not yet in humans – so beware!  Keep a careful eye on what population we have evidence from so we are clear it may or may not translate from worm or fly or rodent to human treatment!   I will settle for encouraging them to pursue their interests in depth…  but my questions remain:

  • What level of knowledge or learning is appropriate for the Graduate APRN student?
  • How do we handle the plethora of information about how the brain works while keeping sight of our goal of learning how to provide excellent care to individuals and their families?
  • How do we strain through all the information in hopes of pointing out the most promising?
  • The burgeoning field of neuroscience offers us information overload at times – and with all the information we must be sure that students learn the basics and have a strong neurobiology foundation… the genetic & epigenetic, the cellular/molecular biology, from imaging, and on and on!

What do you think?!



Eric Kandel on “The New Science of Mind”

On September 6th Erik Kandel (yes, esteemed author of our recommended “principles of Neural Science” book), published an editorial in the NY Times (here is a link: ) titled, “The New Science of Mind”.  He writes about the state of the science in understanding brain biology.

I have to confess that I did not see the original September 6th editorial… I first noticed in yesterday’s paper the 5 letters to the editor that all seemed to take a bit of issue with Kandel’s essay (link:  This of course made me curious to find out what he might have said to ‘spur’ those comments.  I was later surprised to see the original essay was mainstream information that we discuss in our class.

I realized then that in a way these ‘letters to the editor’ were actually talking about what should be included in our definition of what the ‘Mind’ is…  just like we started to talk about in class (albeit briefly) and with our poll…

So let me bring back that question – as you look at these letters in response to Kandel’s article – what are your thoughts?  What should be included in our understanding of the Mind and of the problems or disorders our patients face?  Are some more important than others?

Do you have one letter that strikes a chord with you more than another? Please share your reactions!


Reflections from class…

I enjoyed our class yesterday and was reminded of how much more we know today about the physiologic nature of our brain and our behavior.  Here is one ‘fact’ about the brain that we learned when I was in school:

  • We do not generate new neurons, so what you have is what you’ve got!

Imagine if that were true! We would have a set number of neurons, and then as we proceed in time we lose more and more and more! We learned that when you use substances like alcohol and drugs these substances are ‘neurotoxic’ and cause brain cells to die… remember the long life of that anti-drug campaign – here is an early one:

(yes from when I was in college :))

It disturbed me at the time that if we only lose and never gain neurons was true then why were people able to overcome the effects of binge drinking, and use of other substances…

There was a much more hopeless sense at that time to work with a person who was out of control with their drug use – as the idea was they did not have any ability to improve their cognitive status or to repair damage to their brain.  At least today we know that some neurons are in fact regenerated and that treatment can help to change some of the physiologic disturbances we see on imaging.

The other thought I had as we talked about basic neuroanatomy was what I shared about psychological theories of old…  They were models offering a framework to talk about the observed patterns of mental disorders.  While many of the theories of old are not held in as high esteem – I think it is interesting to see how a physiologic basis exists for many theoretical ideas held in the past.



What influences our mental life?

Below are the results of a poll from our class website – This is a question that is important to our purpose – as clinicians we will be working to help our clients be as healthy as possible both mentally and physically. Depending on what our frame is, we may miss important elements that do affect their mental lives. I tried for broad categories here – but am sure I missed some… what would you add as an important influence – and if you have a minute – why?

Hope you had a good start to your semester – I am looking forward to an interesting semester!


fxrs infl mental life

here is a link to the graph itself:
Classesv2 poll fxrs influencing mental life

Hello world!

Welcome to our blog, Exploring Mental Health!  This blog is devoted to discussing and exploring mental health and psychopathology using a frame that includes the epidemiology, neurobiology, genetic, family, and environmental influences on behavior, psychiatric symptoms and disorders.  I am hopeful that it will encourage discussion and further my student’s learning about psychopathology.

Today we will share our views related to what the mind or mental life is, and its relationship to the brain. In the near future, students will share information here, discussing implications to individuals they care for in their clinical work in psychiatric mental health nursing.