|Tel||+44 (0)1865 618328|
|Fax||+44 (0)1865 251076|
B.Sc. M.Sc. D.Phil.
Royal Society Research Fellow
- Associate Professor
- Supernumerary Fellow, University College
Understanding links between genes and brain dysfunction in psychiatric illness
My group's research aims to understand how individual genes impact on the complex brain functions that are altered in psychiatric disorders. I believe that understanding these links will help to explain why some people respond well to treatments, whilst others do not, and will ultimately lead to new and improved therapies.
In order to do this I use a wide range of experimental techniques, which allows me to study the function of these genes at all levels - from individual cells to the whole person. In order to achieve this, I collaborate with many other researchers within the Department, elsewhere in Oxford, and internationally.
Most of my group’s research to date has focussed on the COMT gene. COMT influences the function of dopamine, a chemical messenger which is implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders and is critical to many different aspects of brain function in healthy people. We have shown that a drug that inhibits COMT increases dopamine levels in the brain and improves memory and attention. Most recently, we showed that a person’s genetic make-up determines whether the drug will improve memory or not. These findings show that inhibiting COMT could be beneficial for disorders in which patients suffer from problems with memory and attention, such as schizophrenia. They also emphasise that genetic factors can dramatically influence the response to a drug and suggest that in the future successful therapies may need to take a person’s individual genetic make-up into account. We are extending these findings by investigating COMT’s impact on brain functions beyond memory and attention, looking in particular their effect on people’s emotions and responses to rewards. In addition, we are also investigating how these links are altered by environmental factors, such as exposure to cannabis and stress.
In recent years, large-scale genetics studies have identified regions of the genome that are associated with risk for developing psychiatric disorders. We have begun to investigate the mechanisms by which these genomic regions are associated with psychiatric disorders; the voltage-gated calcium channel genes are a particular current focus.
We hope that by understanding the links between genes and psychiatric disorders we will not only shed light on the biological basis of these illnesses, but will also identify new treatment targets. My long-term goal is to use this knowledge to improve the lives of patients living with psychiatric disorders.
The role of catechol-O-methyltransferase in reward processing and addiction.
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2012), CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets, 11, 306 - 323
COMT Val(158)Met genotype determines the direction of cognitive effects produced by catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibition.
Farrell SM. et al, (2012), Biol Psychiatry, 71, 538 - 544
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) influences the connectivity of the prefrontal cortex at rest.
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2013), Neuroimage, 68, 49 - 54
Human plasma homocysteine levels are associated with the catechol-O-methyltransferase Val158Met polymorphism
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2007), BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY, 61, 191S - 191S
Catechol-o-methyltransferase, cognition, and psychosis: Val158Met and beyond.
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2006), Biol Psychiatry, 60, 141 - 151
Comparative evaluation of quetiapine plus lamotrigine combination versus quetiapine monotherapy (and folic acid versus placebo) in bipolar depression (CEQUEL): a 2 × 2 factorial randomised trial.
Geddes JR. et al, (2016), Lancet Psychiatry, 3, 31 - 39
Genetic moderation of the effects of cannabis: catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) affects the impact of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on working memory performance but not on the occurrence of psychotic experiences.
Tunbridge EM. et al, (2015), J Psychopharmacol, 29, 1146 - 1151
Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms.
James EL. et al, (2015), Psychol Sci, 26, 1201 - 1215
Reduced cerebrovascular reactivity in young adults carrying the APOE ε4 allele.
Suri S. et al, (2015), Alzheimers Dement, 11, 648 - 57.e1
Modulation of hippocampal theta and hippocampal-prefrontal cortex function by a schizophrenia risk gene.
Cousijn H. et al, (2015), Hum Brain Mapp, 36, 2387 - 2395