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Neurobiology of Mental Illness
Reviewed by DAVID L. DUNNER, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2000;157:1530-a-1531. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.9.1530-a
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Edited by Dennis S. Charney, Eric J. Nestler, and Benjamin S. Bunney. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999, 929 pp., $150.00.

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This comprehensive text regarding basic neurobiology and clinical neurobiological research is a very difficult book to review. There is greater emphasis in this text on mechanisms than actual treatment. A clinician looking for doses, what to prescribe, how to prescribe it, and how to manage side effects is likely to be disappointed. A student, resident, or more research-oriented clinician interested in the currently favored hypotheses regarding the basis of mental disorders, how drugs might work, and where research is headed, however, will find that this book has much to offer.

The book is divided into nine sections: Basic Neurobiology, Methods of Clinical Neurobiological Research, six sections defined by different psychiatric disorders, and a final section titled Special Topic Areas.

The first section consists of six chapters. The titles of these chapters reflect the current state of basic research: "Overview of Brain Development," "Neurochemical Systems in the Central Nervous System," "Electrophysiology of Neural Systems," "Principles of Signal Transduction," "Mechanisms of Neural Plasticity," and "Principles of Molecular Biology." These chapters are comprehensive and up-to-date.

There are eight chapters in section 2. These discuss epidemiology, clinical molecular genetics, clinical electrophysiology, clinical neurochemistry, clinical neuroendocrinology, clinical neuroimmunology, and neuroimaging methodologies. In addition, Dr. Heninger has written a very nice introductory chapter for this section, reviewing special challenges related to the investigation of the neurobiology of mental disorders.

The sections of the book that deal with psychiatric disorders discuss psychoses, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, dementia, and psychiatric disorders with childhood onset. The section on special topic areas includes personality disorders, aggression, human sexuality, social attachment, eating disorders, menstrual-cycle-related mood disorders, and sleep.

Each of the sections on psychiatric disorders is structured in a rather similar way, with chapters discussing diagnostic classification, the molecular genetics of the disorder, animal models of the disorder, neurochemistry of the disorder, abnormalities of brain structure, neuroimaging studies, and principles of pharmacotherapy of the disorder. These chapters are written by individuals who are well-known in their fields. A concerted effort was made to provide a structure to this text such that there is an evenness from chapter to chapter.

The referencing is quite up-to-date, and I found a number of references through 1999, the year of publication of this volume. The index seems quite useful. A textbook of this kind requires an excellent index because one is not going to use this as a textbook to read chapters as much as a reference source to find a pertinent reference or a topic area or some information about a particular topic area. Each of the chapters is exceeding well referenced, with approximately 50 references per chapter. There are several illustrations throughout the book. It is well laid out, and the very structure of the book makes it quite easy to read.

I commend the editors for producing this text. It is difficult to create such as book because of the rapid evolvement of the some of the basic methodologies that are its focus. The editors deserve tremendous credit for compiling a most useful reference text, and I am not aware of a similar textbook that is anywhere as comprehensive, up-to-date, or focused on the basic science of our field. I think this book would be an excellent resource for psychiatric residents, early doctoral students in neurochemistry and the neurosciences, and psychiatric researchers interested in the basic underpinnings of mental disorders.

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