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We explore how the brain processes emotional information and how this is influenced by brain chemicals and medicines. This helps us to understand disorders such as depression and anxiety and to understand and contribute to the development of drug and psychological treatments.

The Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory explores the ways in which the brain processes emotional information and how this is affected by neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. As well as telling us about normal brain function, this may help us understand emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety and how these may be helped by drug treatments that affect neurotransmitter function. We attempt to understand how conventional treatments may work, how mechanisms underlying treatment efficacy interact with psychological treatments, and also whether we can predict new candidate treatments for depression and anxiety using these experimental medicine models.


The group comprises a multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacologists and neuroscientists and aims to explore these questions using human models of cognitive and emotional processing. Our methodologies include psychopharmacological challenges, neuropsychological testing, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and functional neuroimaging with fMRI, MEG and PET in healthy volunteers, patient and at-risk groups.


A major output of the group has been the development of a human model of antidepressant drug action (the Cognitive Neuropsychological Model; Harmer et al., 2009, British Journal of Psychiatry), based on the results of a series of studies which showed that antidepressant drugs bias emotional processing towards positive information much earlier than antidepressant effects on mood can be detected. Such changes are believed to contribute to the recovery from depression with the delay in antidepressants’ clinical efficacy arising from the need to translate the changes in emotional processing into subjective improvement in mood through interactions with the environment and the gradual relearning of non-depressive, emotional associations.

Our team


PERL at the RESTORE Fayre!

Saturday 20th August 2022: We had a great time at the RESTORE Fayre, Elder Stubbs allotments. Thank you to everybody that came to chat to us about PERL's research!

NIHR Oxford Health Experimental Medicine and Industry Partnership

Following on from the AIM day the Experimental Medicine and Industry Partnership (EMIP) has been established at the Oxford Health BRC to support commercial organisations who are looking to implement experimental medicine approaches in their psychiatric treatment development programmes.

PERL at the Oxford Neuroscience Experience

The Oxford Neuroscience Experience is an annual public engagement event where Year 12 pupils are invited to gain an insight into what neuroscience at Oxford looks like. The experience aims to expose the pupils to some of the fundamental questions addressed by neuroscience research.

Tereza presents her work on treating depression during COVID-19 through online behavioural activation

DPhil student Tereza recently attended the Asian Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Association to present her work on treating depression during COVID-19 through online behavioural activation. The meeting was an excellent opportunity to learn about the global applications of CBT and to hear from renowned experts such as Dr Judith Beck.

AIMday, Experimental Medicine in Psychiatry, Wednesday 7th July 2021

We will be hosting an AIMday in Experimental Medicine in Psychiatry on Wednesday 7th July 2021. This event will bring together academic excellence from across the University of Oxford together with industry to help answer the most pressing challenges in this area, as identified by industry.

Congratulations Priyanka

Congratulations to Priyanka Panchal who was awarded a DPhil based on her thesis work characterising mood instability across behavioural, neural and cognitive levels. Thanks to examiners Jon Roiser and Susie Murphy.

Congratulations Alexander

Congratulations to Alexander Kaltenboeck who was awarded a DPhil based on his thesis work exploring experimental medicine approaches for novel antidepressant treatments. Thanks to examiners Liz Tunbridge and Matthew Broome.

Catherine and Susie present at MQ Science Summit

Catherine and Susie presented our work on antidepressant use at the MQ Summit on 13th June 2021. The session was hosted by the Wellcome Trust and showcased recent work that has been conducted as part of their recent Active Ingredients commission, identifying core approaches to the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety in young people.

Staying connected during lockdowns and a global pandemic

PERL has adapted to a new normal in 2020. We have been meeting online, continuing our weekly journal club, welcoming new members, congratulating new graduates, saying farewell to those moving on and celebrating special occasions, we even had a goat join our zoom christmas social!

Current studies

Glutamate Emotion Memory Study (GEMS)

Looking for people aged between 20 and 60 with current depression, who have shown inadequate response to at least one and no more than three antidepressant treatments.

Reward, Emotion, Learning and Ketamine (RELAKS) Study

We are looking for volunteers to improve our understanding on how ketamine can influence the way people learn from rewards and punishments.

Combined Antidepressant and Behavioural Intervention (CABIN) Study

Looking for volunteers low in mood and activity

Low Mood and Activity Study

This study involves evaluating the effects of a 4 week behavioural intervention in people low in mood and/or activity. Please contact for further information.


Looking for volunteers who have had episodes of depression in the past but are not currently taking antidepressants, to take part in a 7 day study looking at the effect of a licensed drug, prucalopride.

Related research themes