Ontologies for human behavior analysis and their application to clinical data

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2012;103:89-107. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-388408-4.00005-8.


Mental and behavioral disorders are common in all countries and represent a significant portion of the public health burden in developed nations. The human cost of these disorders is immense, yet treatment options for sufferers are currently limited, with many patients failing to respond sufficiently to currently available interventions. Standardized terminologies facilitate data annotation and exchange for patient care, epidemiological analyses, and primary research into novel therapeutics. Such medical terminologies include SNOMED CT and ICD, which we describe here. Medical informatics is increasingly moving toward the adoption of formal ontologies, as they describe the nature of entities in reality and the relationships between them in such a fashion that they can be used for sophisticated automated reasoning and inference applications. An added benefit is that ontologies can be applied across different contexts in which traditionally separate domain-specific vocabularies have been used. In this chapter, we report on a suite of ontologies currently in development for the description of human behavior, mental functioning, and mental disorders, and discuss their application in clinical contexts. We focus on the benefits of ontologies for clinical data management and for facilitating translational research for the development of novel therapeutics to treat challenging and debilitating conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Computational Biology*
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics Applications*
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Terminology as Topic