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Chapter 4. Chemical Neuroanatomy of the Primate Brain


Other chapters in this textbook address the questions of how psychotropic medications affect the brain to reduce the severity of the clinical features and symptoms of psychiatric disorders and to produce the side effects that frequently accompany their administration. Appropriately, much attention has been directed toward the neurotransmitter systems that are the targets of these medications. A potential consequence of this emphasis is the idea, in its simplest form, that an excess or deficit in the functional activity of a given neurotransmitter is the pathophysiological basis for the clinical features of interest. Although variants of this view have been very useful in motivating investigations of the molecular underpinnings and biochemical features of neurotransmitter systems and in spurring the development of novel psychopharmacological agents that influence these systems, in the extreme case this perspective tends to consider a given psychiatric disorder as the consequence solely of the postulated disturbance in a neurotransmitter system.

In addition to this limited conceptual perspective, neurotransmitter-based views of psychiatric disorders sometimes seem to attribute behavioral, emotional, or cognitive functions to neurotransmitters instead of explicitly recognizing that neurotransmitters have defined actions on receptors, whereas behaviors, emotions, and cognitive abilities represent emergent properties of the integrated activity of large networks of neurons. This view of psychiatric disorders was influenced, at least in part, by extrapolations from earlier successes in the study of Parkinson's disease, which was then viewed as a single-neurotransmitter (i.e., dopamine) disease resulting from a localized neuropathology (e.g., cell death in the substantia nigra).

In recent years, however, greater attention has been given to neural circuitry-based views of psychiatric disorders that reflect a fuller appreciation of the fact that neurotransmitters act in an anatomically constrained fashion to produce specific biochemical effects at the cellular level and that the localization of function(s) is a consequence of the flow of information processing through the neural circuits formed by neurotransmitter systems (Lewis 2002). Consequently, the goal of this chapter is to provide a brief overview of the major neurotransmitter systems of the primate brain, with reference to the rodent brain where appropriate, and to consider these systems within the context of the anatomical pathways in which they participate.

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