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Current research project
I'm a post-doctoral research fellow working with Liz Tunbridge at the Department of Psychiatry and Mark Walton at the Department of Experimental Psychology. My current research focusses on the question of how changes in prefrontal dopamine levels, mediated by changes in the activity of the enzyme Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT), affect dopamine signalling in other parts of the brain (striatum), and how this might be related to the processing and learning about rewards. To address this question, I am using a combination of learning tasks in genetically modified mice and fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, an electrochemical technique that allows me to track dopamine release in the brain.
The long-term goal is to use the insights gained by this research to better understand how changes in dopamine signalling in the brain might be involved in neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction or schizophrenia.
My passion for neuroscience developed during my BSc course in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Jacobs University, where I worked on a research project investigating the cellular and molecular basis of learning and memory deficits in transgenic mice. Fascinated by the question how seemingly small changes in the interplay between different molecules could have big effects on complex behaviour and affect mental health, I decided to pursue the M.Sc in Neuroscience course at Oxford.
Keen on combining the exciting aspects of higher cognitive function with finescale measurements of brain chemistry, I then joined the Walton Lab as a research assistant, and later as DPhil student, where I received training in in vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. Combined with basic decision-making tasks, this set-up allowed me to investigate the role of dopamine signalling in reinforcement learning and decision making.
McHugh SB. et al, (2014), J Neurosci, 34, 9024 - 9033
Barkus C. et al, (2014), Biol Psychiatry, 75, 901 - 908
Baudonnat M. et al, (2013), Front Neurosci, 7
The role of catechol-O-methyltransferase in reward processing and addiction.
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2012), CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets, 11, 306 - 323
McCabe C. et al, (2011), Psychopharmacology, 217, 271 - 278