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Psychotropic drug treatment is often prescribed to help people with mental health problems but its use can be controversial. The work of the group aims to understand how psychotropic drugs work from a molecular level through to clinical research in patients.

© Phil Cowen

Fig. above: Changes in serotonin release after acute citalopram in healthy volunteers (A PET imaging study)

The chance discovery of psychotropic drugs in the middle of the last century transformed the practice of psychiatry. However since then progress has been relatively slow and recently the pharmaceutical industry has significantly decreased its investment in psychotropic drug development.

it is therefore necessary for academic departments to try and stimulate the process of drug discovery. Progress is most likely come from our collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians and our research group works closely with the University Department of Pharmacology to make use of what is called ‘drug repurposing’.

Brain imaging is an important part of understanding how psychotropic drugs work and we have collaborations with the IMANOVA PET Institute at the Hammersmith Hospital and with the Oxford Centre for Functional Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB).

We are also involved in research that aims to identify people at risk of serious mental health problems before the onset of illness in the hope that, at this stage, relatively simple psychological or nutritional interventions might have a useful preventative effect. For example, we have just completed a trial of the use of folic acid to prevent the onset of depression in young people who are at increased familial risk of developing a mood disorder.

Our team

Selected publications

Related research themes