The Rebirth of Neuroscience in Psychosomatic Medicine, Part I: Historical Context, Methods, and Relevant Basic Science

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Abstract

Neuroscience was an integral part of psychosomatic medicine at its inception in the early 20th century. Since the mid-20th century, however, psychosomatic research has largely ignored the brain. The field of neuroscience has burgeoned in recent years largely because a variety of powerful new methods have become available. Many of these methods allow for the noninvasive study of the living human brain and thus are potentially available for integration into psychosomatic medicine research at this time. In this first paper we examine various methods available for human neuroscientific investigation and discuss their relative strengths and weaknesses. We next review some basic functional neuroanatomy involving structures that are increasingly being identified as relevant for psychosomatic processes. We then discuss, and provide examples of, how the brain influences end organs through “information transfer systems,” including the autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune systems. The evidence currently available suggests that neuroscience holds great promise for advancing the goal of understanding the mechanisms by which psychosocial variables influence physical disease outcomes. An increased focus on such mechanistic research in psychosomatic medicine is needed to further its acceptance into the field of medicine.

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