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Research Fellows Directory

Elizabeth Tunbridge

Dr Elizabeth Tunbridge

Research Fellow

Organisation

University of Oxford

Research summary

One of the major challenges facing researchers is elucidating how genes and environmental factors act, both separately and together, to influence brain function, and how this process may go awry in psychiatric disorders. Solving this complex problem will increase our understanding of the causes of psychiatric disorders and should lead to improved therapies. This is essential, since current drug treatments are of limited benefit and often result in significant side effects.

My research focuses on a gene that is implicated in brain function relevant to psychiatric disorders: catechol-O-methytransferase (COMT). I demonstrated previously that COMT regulates levels of a chemical messenger called dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, a key region of the brain for memory, attention and decision making, and that lowering COMT’s activity improves memory and attention. I am currently extending this research in a number of ways. Firstly, I am investigating the mechanism underlying an interaction between COMT and

cannabis use in increasing the risk of developing psychotic symptoms (including hallucinations and delusions) and impairing attention and memory. Secondly, my collaborators and I are investigating the impact of COMT, and other genes relevant to psychiatric disorders, in healthy human volunteers on the way in which the brain processes information during tests of memory, decision- making and emotional processing, and at rest. Thirdly, I am investigating COMT's role in processing rewards (e.g. food). Finally, I have begun to expand my investigations beyond COMT to study the impact of of other genes relevant to psychiatry.

These studies will help us to understand the role that COMT and other psychiatry-relevant genes play in the brain and therefore whether they are good therapeutic targets forpsychiatric disorders. In addition, they will also provide insight into how individual genes contribute to overall brain function.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Genetic modulation of dopamine

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Jul 2015 - Jun 2018

Value: £319,120.79

Mechanisms linking COMT, cannabis and psychiatric phenotypes

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2009 - Jun 2015

Value: £563,092.14

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