BSc, MSc, DPhil
In our research group we aim to understand how genetic factors impact on brain functions relevant to psychiatric illness. We focus in particular on the catechol-O-methyltransferase’s (COMT) gene. COMT influences the function of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain which is implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders but is also critical in healthy brain functions.
Previous work in our lab showed that a drug that inhibits COMT increases dopamine levels in the brain and improves memory and attention. Moreover it was discovered that a person’s genetic make-up determines whether the drug will improve memory or not. These findings emphasise that genetic factors can 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.
The main objective of my DPhil is to extend these findings by investigating COMT’s impact on brain functions beyond memory (like emotional processing and reward sensitivity) but more importantly, how the links between dopamine, COMT and memory are altered by environmental factors like stress.