Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuropsychoanalysis of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute
Saturday, May 2nd, 2015
Recent research clearly indicates that our neocortical expansions essential for our cognitive minds (mediated by a few genetic changes), are born empty of contents (i.e., evolutionary specializations) — everything there is programmed by life experiences. In contrast, cross-species evolutionary specializations are abundant in subcortical brain regions — homologous across mammals — that control our attentional, motivational and emotional urges. These homologies allow animal brain research to illuminate the foundation of human minds. Mammalian brains contain at least 7 primal emotional systems – SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC and PLAY (capitalization reflects a proposed primary-process terminology, to minimize semantic/mereological confusions). These systems provide foundations for the rest of the mind which, when imbalanced, promote various common life/psychiatric problems (e.g. depressive, impulse control & manic disorders), providing cross-species insights for understanding human psychopathologies. Three systems are especially important for preclinical modeling of depression: The separation distress (PANIC) system mediates the psychic pain of separation distress (i.e. excessive sadness and grief), which can be counteracted by minimizing PANIC arousals (as with low-doses of “safe” opioids like buprenorphine). Depressive dysphoria can also arises from reduced brain reward-SEEKING and related PLAY urges — namely diminished enthusiasm and social joy-laughter experiences. An understanding of such fundamental emotional circuits in preclinical (animal) models has promoted the development of three novel therapeutics to counteract depression – (i) low-dose buprenorphine, which reduces PANIC arousal and suicidal ideation (with Yoram Yovell, Univ. of Haifa), (ii) direct arousal of SEEKING-mediated capacity for elevated enthusiasm to counteract amotivational dysphoria (with Volker Coenen’s group at Univ. of Bonn/Freiburg), and (iii) the discovery of social-joy-promoting molecules derived from the analysis of PLAY dynamics (with Jeff Burgdorf and Joe Moskal at the Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, Northwestern).