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01-10-2014 | Commentary | Uitgave 10/2014

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 10/2014

Classification of Behaviorally Defined Disorders: Biology Versus the DSM

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders > Uitgave 10/2014
Isabelle Rapin


Three levels of investigation underlie all biologically based attempts at classification of behaviorally defined developmental and psychiatric disorders: Level A, pseudo-categorical classification of mostly dimensional descriptions of behaviors and their disorders included in the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5); Level C, mostly categorical classification of genetic and environmental causes (etiologies) of Level A disorders; and Level B, the pathophysiologic—both categorical and dimensional—biologic mechanisms underlying Level A “diagnoses” which comprise hierarchically interacting molecular, cellular, and neural networks and major brain pathways orchestrated by Level C etiologies. Besides modest numbers of effective psychotropic medications and their derivatives, major advances in treatment have addressed the behavioral symptoms of Level A-defined developmental and psychiatric disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health proposes support for a new biologically based Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) classification; its goal is to apply to behaviorally defined Level A developmental and psychiatric disorders the biologically based Level C and Level B research strategies that have greatly accelerated treatment and prevention of medical disorders. It plans to supplement effective educational and behavioral symptom-based interventions with faster, more potent and specific biologic therapies and, hopefully, to discover how effective behavioral interventions alter brain function. This commentary raises the question of whether a hybrid nosology that maps biology onto behavior is attainable. At a minimum, such a nosologic effort requires greater in-depth and better informed dialog between investigators of behavior and biology than occurs typically, and more realistic communication of the implications of research results to the public.

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