The role of behavior in translational models for psychopathology: Functionality and dysfunctional behaviors

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Abstract

The history of science has frequently included a problem-based impetus toward research that can be translated expeditiously into solutions. A current problem is that psychopathologies, typically chronic, contribute hugely to the economic and social burden of medical care, especially in the United States. For behavioral neuroscientists a psychopathology-aimed translational research emphasis particularly involves animal models to facilitate the experimental and invasive work necessary to an understanding of the biology of normal and aberrant behavior. When the etiology of a particular psychopathology is unknown, and there are no specific biomarkers, behavioral parallels between the focal disorder and its putative models become crucial elements in assessing model validity. Evaluation of these parallels is frequently neglected, reflecting in part the lack of a systematic conceptualization of the organization of behavior and how this may be conserved across species. Recent work specifically attempting to bridge this gap suggests that analysis of behaviors that are functional – adaptive in crucial situations such as danger or social contexts – can facilitate an understanding of the parallels between behaviors of human and nonhuman species, including the dysfunctional behaviors of psycho pathologies. As research with animal models comes to provide a more systematic analysis of particular behaviors and their adaptive functions, cross-talk between model and focal psychopathology may be advantageous to understanding both.

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