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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.

Perl group 2

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.

Potentially paradigm-changing findingsM.E. Thase, American Journal of Psychiatry

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

Selected publications

PERL News

  • Springtide 2019 with the Oxford SU

    A great day at University Parks doing some public engagement for the Springtide Festival, involving our increasingly popular balloons!

  • PERL at Elder Stubbs

    We had a wonderful Saturday at the Elder Stubbs festival run by RESTORE. Met lots of lovely people, and dogs!!

  • PERL at the Headington Festival

    Members of PERL were at the Headington Festival this weekend. Our stand had lots of interest and we had good fun telling local people about our research and handing out smiley face balloons.

  • Visiting summer student

    We welcome Andrea Enriquez, a visiting summer student from the States

  • SOBP in NYC

    Biological Psychiatry in New York City 2018 was a fantastic conference. Oxford Psychiatry researchers were out in force, with a great session on mood instability chaired by Paul Harrison, and a computational psychiatry workshop organised by Mike Browning. Susannah Murphy was presenting recent data from our lab on the 5-HT4 agonist prucalopride.

  • PERL at FENS Brain Conference, Copenhagen

    Quite a few of the lab recently attended The Brain Conference on "New Insights into Psychiatric Disorders through Computational, Biological and Developmental Approaches", which was organised by FENS and held in Copenhagen 25-28 September 2016.

  • Congratulations Dr Charlotte Cooper!

    Charlotte successfully defended her DPhil thesis on 3rd August 2016. Michael Browning and Carmine Pariante were her examiners and they recommended that she be awarded a DPhil with no corrections to her thesis.

  • PERL in Brighton at BAP 2016

    There was a great turnout from PERL at the British Association of Psychopharmacology in Brighton this year.

  • Fun at Oxfordshire Science Festival

    PERL spent the weekend at Oxfordshire Science Festival talking to people about our research and how the recognition of facial expressions can be used as a marker of antidepressant effects. We had an interactive task where people could guess the expression of faces using handheld button boxes. It was great to talk to so many children and adults about the work that we do.

  • Congratulations Matthew Warren and Maria Ironside!

    Congratulations to Maria and Matthew who have both had successful DPhil vivas recently. We wish them well as they move on to their next adventures. Maria will be moving to Boston to take up a a postdoc position with Diego Pizzagalli. Matthew has already started work as Press Officer at Oxitec.

  • PERL at SOBP 2016

    Quite a few members of PERL were at the Biological Psychiatry conference in Atlanta this year. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some PERL alumni, including Ciara McCabe and Poornima Kumar who both spoke in a great anhedonia session.

Current studies

  • Prucalopride study

    Healthy volunteers needed for emotional processing study

  • RESTART Study

    Looking for people who are currently on antidepressants

  • PEP Study

    The PEP study compares 18 days of pramipexole vs placebo and involves an MRI scan. Please contact pramipexole.study@psych.ox.ac.uk for further information.

  • RESTAND Study

    We are looking for people who are experiencing persistent low mood and not taking antidepressants, to take part in a study investigating how a new medication affects emotional decision making.

  • Losartan Study

    FEELING A BIT DOWN? FEELING PERFECTLY FINE?

  • Panic attack Study

    Do you suffer from panic attacks?

  • Fear of spiders study

    ARE SPIDERS A PROBLEM FOR YOU?

  • Ebselen study

    EBSELEN AS AN ADD-ON TREATMENT IN HYPO/MANIA

  • 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 tereza.miketa@psych.ox.ac.uk for further information.

Related research themes