BSc, MSc, DPhil
NIHR Oxford Health BRC Postdoctoral researcher
The main focus of my role is providing support for existing and new projects within the NIHR Oxford Health BRC's Experimental Medicine theme, aimed at investigating the mechanisms of established and novel treatments for mood disorders. Key methods include cognitive neuroscience, functional brain imaging (fMRI) and biomarker approaches, using both patient groups and healthy volunteer studies.
Within the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory (PERL) we explore the ways in which the brain processes emotional information and how this is affected by chemical messengers in the brain (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 how these may be helped by drug treatments that affect neurotransmitter function. We attempt to understand how conventional treatments may work, and also whether we can predict new candidate treatments for depression and anxiety using experimental medicine models.
Furthermore, together with Prof. Paul Harrison and Prof. Elizabeth Tunbridge, I 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, 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 was to extend these findings by investigating COMT’s impact on brain functions beyond memory (like emotional processing) but more importantly, how the links between dopamine, COMT and memory are altered by environmental factors like stress.
I am also a tutor on the FSL course and FMRIB's Graduate Course for MRI analysis.
Pharmacological manipulations of emotional processing biases: from bench to bedside
MARTENS M. and HARMER C., (2023), Interpretational Processing Biases in Emotional Psychopathology From Experimental Investigation to Clinical Practice
Effect of Lithium Administration on Brain Activity Under an Emotion Regulation Paradigm in Healthy Participants: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study
Hortelano PA. et al, (2022)
Catechol-O-methyltransferase activity does not influence emotional processing in men.
Martens MA. et al, (2022), J Psychopharmacol
The Effect of the 5-HT4 Agonist, Prucalopride, on a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Faces Task in the Healthy Human Brain.
de Cates AN. et al, (2022), Front Psychiatry, 13
The effects of atorvastatin on emotional processing, reward learning, verbal memory, and inflammation in healthy volunteers: an experimental medicine study
DE GIORGI R. et al, (2021), Journal of Psychopharmacology