Eric Kandel's "Psychotherapy and the Single Synapse," reprinted here, is an elegant and inspirational essay on the relationship of clinical psychiatry to cellular biology. It examines how psychology and psychiatry as clinical fields frame the broad conceptual questions that ideally direct the focus of molecular and cellular neurobiology. Dr. Kandel's article draws attention to two prominent paradigms demonstrating how advances in basic neuroscience were led by clinical observations—a line of investigation currently referred to as "translational research."
The first paradigm highlighted in the article pertains to the observed effects of adverse early developmental experiences on brain development. Dr. Kandel cites the seminal work of Hubel and Wiesel, who showed in a number of studies that monocular occlusion of vision in newborn animals led to permanent abnormalities in the visual cortex. Hence, these studies dramatically demonstrated that sensory input has a crucial role in the development and organization of the brain.
The second paradigm pertains to two aspects of learning: habituation and sensitization. Dr. Kandel presents his own work on a simple animal model of learning, the gill reflex of the marine slug Aplysia californica. Dr. Kandel has made astonishing discoveries in how changes in synaptic structure and efficacy are associated with learning. He concludes that all experiential events, including psychotherapeutic interventions, ultimately affect the structure and function of neuronal synapses.
What is particularly striking about the choice of the two paradigms made by Dr. Kandel in this 1979 article is that accomplishments in both of these areas were subsequently recognized by the Nobel Assembly with the highest award given in our field. Hubel and Wiesel were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1981, and Dr. Kandel shared the same prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard in 2000.