Research Trends: NIMH Research Domain Criteria and DSM-5

Research Trends: NIMH Research Domain Criteria and DSM-5

By Frank Farach, Staff Scientist

As many readers of our Data Bytes blog know, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is scheduled to publish the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) later this month. Historically, new editions of the DSM have generated controversy, and this one is no exception. It still came as a surprise to some, however, when Dr. Thomas Insel, the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), announced that the NIMH will be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories,” instead supporting research that cuts across them. The DSM’s “weakness is its lack of validity,” Insel explained, because it partitions collections of symptoms into clinical syndromes without regard to their pathophysiology. He argued that patients will be better served in the future by a research-based classification system created by “collecting the genetic, imaging, physiologic, and cognitive data to see how all the data – not just the symptoms – cluster and how these clusters relate to treatment response.”

The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework is the NIMH’s response to this challenge. RDoC-funded research will need to fit within a matrix that crosses high-level psychological constructs (e.g., negative valence systems, such as fear and anxiety) with distinct levels of analysis (e.g., molecules, neural circuitry, behavior). In contrast to traditional clinical mental health research, in which research participants are first selected on the basis of one or more DSM diagnoses, RDoC-based research will examine how constructs operate across levels of analysis, without regard to DSM diagnoses.

How will this new approach affect the management of research data? It’s too early to say for sure, but the initiative’s emphasis on multiple constructs and levels of analysis suggests that data integration, data sharing, and data management will continue to rise in importance. We at Prometheus will be watching these developments closely for their potential impact on research data management. I plan to post another update after I attend a special symposium on this topic at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science coming up later this month.