What is Neuropsychopharmacology?

Neuropsychopharmacology is a science that examines the effects of drugs on the mind. It combines neuroscience with the science of psychopharmacology, which studies how different drugs impact people’s behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology is a new branch of scientific research following on from the significant development around psychopharmacology in the 1950s.

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Objectives of the science

Scientists hope that through neuropsychopharmacology, they will be able to find medicines that can help patients to have a better quality of life. Furthermore, the hope is that this will then significantly impact society to reduce the economic burden on the world’s healthcare systems, which are currently unable to meet the medical needs of many mental health patients. As well as the development of more targeted medicines, neuropsychopharmacology hopes to assist in the development of better diagnostic tools and other therapies for mental health.

The premise of this science is that all human thought processes in the mind, both ones that are associated with mental health issues and normal thoughts, have an origin in neurochemical reactions. Scientists also hope to provide more insight into how people learn and how they develop memories. Neuropsychopharmacological research also hopes to pinpoint the circuit pathways that represent certain states of mind.

Diseases studied through neuropsychopharmacology

Psychopharmacology has helped in the development of drugs that treat various types of mental health conditions, such as psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, sleep disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders like bipolar disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology further expands on this by considering the neuropathology, pharmacodynamics, consciousness, and levels of the mental illness of patients.

What the scientists study

Researchers in the field of neuropsychopharmacology are trying to develop specific drugs that work on particular receptors for specific types of neuronal communications. The aim is to come up with very targeted medicines with high efficacy and a low risk of side effects.

The research involves a close study of neurotransmission, which involves the chemical and electrical signals created when a cell is triggered to communicate with neurons in a thought process. Scientists are examining the role of enzymes, ligands, and proteins in the functions of the main neurotransmitters like glutamate, GABA, and dopamine. Additionally, the mechanisms for the voltage of transmissions are being explored, as well as the effect of enzymes on neurotransmitters.

Scientists are also trying to isolate particular circuits and their location in the brain so that they can link them to specific illnesses. This will enable researchers to identify which receptors, chemicals, and neurotransmitters in a particular area are involved in a specific thought process.

More insight can also be gained from drugs that are already being used to treat mental health disorders such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which block serotonin or anti-anxiety agents. Pharmaceutical companies are using these drugs as the basis for further research into compounds that are receptor-specific.

Different types of equipment used

Neuropsychopharmacologists use several different types of equipment to gain information about brain activity to help with research.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) helps researchers to study the activity of the brain by considering the blood oxygenation and flow. Heightened activity in an area of the brain is revealed by increased usage of oxygen. Hemoglobin in the blood is diamagnetic when it is oxygenated and paramagnetic when deoxygenated.

Positron emission tomography (PET) can be used to show the function of different organs or tissues. In fact, PET scan equipment has the ability to show changes at a cellular level. Detectors pick up the amount of radiation being emitted, which is used to produce the final image. The technique requires a radioactive tracer, which accumulates in areas of high activity.

Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) is a type of nuclear imaging technique that is used to provide insight into how the brain is working through blood flow in a particular region. It gives guidance on neuronal activity levels.

Cosmetic NeuroPsychopharmacology: Jose Rey at TEDxNSU


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Deborah Fields

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Deborah Fields

Deborah holds a B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Birmingham and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism qualification from Cardiff University. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations. Previously she has worked as an editor of scientific patent information, an education journalist and in communications for innovative healthcare, pharmaceutical and technology organisations. She also loves books and has run a book group for several years. Her enjoyment of fiction extends to writing her own stories for pleasure.


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