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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.

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


Welcome to our new MSc student Cagdas Turkmen

Cagdas is a visiting MSc student in Neuropsychology from Maastricht University (UM), supervised by Professor Philip Cowen, Dr Angharad de Cates and Professor Rob Markus (UM). Whilst he is in Oxford, he will be working on a sleep study as part of his MSc research project investigating the effect of a single dose of the 5-HT4 agonist prucalopride on sleep architecture. Although prucalopride is currently used to treat chronic constipation, it may have potential to be utilised as an antidepressant. Given the close link between sleep and depression as well as the gap in our knowledge about the role of 5-HT4 receptors in sleep, the results of this study will have important clinical implications. Understanding the effect of 5-HT4 agonism on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is of particular interest, as REM sleep tends to be dysregulated in depression. Cagdas has a BSc in Psychology from Maastricht University, and had a semester abroad at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

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


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.

Current studies


Looking for people who are currently on antidepressants


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.

Fen and Cognition Study

We are looking for healthy volunteers aged between 18-22 of age for a study investigating the effect of the drug fenfluramine on learning and memory.

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

Simvastatin Study

Healthy volunteers needed for a drug study investigating how a commonly-used medicine, a statin, affects emotional information, rewarding information, and inflammation.

The EPIC Study

Do you have trouble sleeping and low mood? We are looking for people who have persistent problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep, and who are also having some difficulty with their mood and emotions.

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.

Related research themes