Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Washington State University
Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuropsychoanalysis of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute
Saturday, May 2nd, 2015
Recent research clearly indicates that our neocortical expansions essential for our cognitive minds (mediated by a few genetic changes), are born empty of contents (i.e., evolutionary specializations) — everything there is programmed by life experiences. In contrast, cross-species evolutionary specializations are abundant in subcortical brain regions — homologous across mammals — that control our attentional, motivational and emotional urges. These homologies allow animal brain research to illuminate the foundation of human minds. Mammalian brains contain at least 7 primal emotional systems – SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC and PLAY (capitalization reflects a proposed primary-process terminology, to minimize semantic/mereological confusions). These systems provide foundations for the rest of the mind which, when imbalanced, promote various common life/psychiatric problems (e.g. depressive, impulse control & manic disorders), providing cross-species insights for understanding human psychopathologies. Three systems are especially important for preclinical modeling of depression: The separation distress (PANIC) system mediates the psychic pain of separation distress (i.e. excessive sadness and grief), which can be counteracted by minimizing PANIC arousals (as with low-doses of “safe” opioids like buprenorphine). Depressive dysphoria can also arises from reduced brain reward-SEEKING and related PLAY urges — namely diminished enthusiasm and social joy-laughter experiences. An understanding of such fundamental emotional circuits in preclinical (animal) models has promoted the development of three novel therapeutics to counteract depression – (i) low-dose buprenorphine, which reduces PANIC arousal and suicidal ideation (with Yoram Yovell, Univ. of Haifa), (ii) direct arousal of SEEKING-mediated capacity for elevated enthusiasm to counteract amotivational dysphoria (with Volker Coenen’s group at Univ. of Bonn/Freiburg), and (iii) the discovery of social-joy-promoting molecules derived from the analysis of PLAY dynamics (with Jeff Burgdorf and Joe Moskal at the Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, Northwestern).