Neural mechanisms of positive symptoms in first-episode and prodromal psychosis.

John Grace QC PhD Scholarship 2020 - King's College London

Supervisors: Gemma Modinos, Philip McGuire.

Summary: One in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. The cost of mental ill health to the economy, NHS and society is estimated to be £105 billion a year. Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder involving psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices that aren't there. Available treatments do not work for about a third of patients and have no impact on prevention. To develop better treatments, we must understand the brain basis of how schizophrenia develops. In the brain, psychosis is associated with excess production of a chemical called dopamine, but we know little about what causes this. Recent research suggests that the dopamine excess is due to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to deficits in the chemical system GABA. GABA deficits elevate activity in key brain areas such as the hippocampus, leading to increased dopamine and psychotic symptoms. Studies also show that targeting oxidative stress early may be a new way to prevent psychosis. This project will use advanced brain imaging methods to identify the mechanisms linked to psychosis. We will study the relationship between oxidative stress, GABA and psychotic symptoms in people with early psychosis. This will help us understand the brain basis of schizophrenia and inform potential new targets for prevention.

Hi, I’m Taryn. I started my PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London in October 2019, under the supervision on Dr Jennifer Lau, Dr Katherine Young and Dr Victoria Pile.

Prior to starting my PhD, I completed my MSc in Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Manchester, my PGCert for Evidence-Based Psychological Treatments (IAPT Pathway) at the University of Reading and my BSc in Psychology at the University of Exeter. During this time, I also worked as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner in two Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The majority of my clinical experience has been working with young people experiencing difficulties with depression, anxiety and emotion regulation and delivering evidence-based interventions to young people and their parents. I thoroughly enjoy working with young people and am passionate about furthering the development of early-intervention support for them. From my experiences, I have seen the challenges that young people face in accessing early mental health support and the barriers they can be up against in getting treatment from more specialist services. I am therefore delighted to be a part of this project, which aims to develop a school-based intervention for anhedonia in depression, and I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity. I would like to thank Mental Health Research UK for funding this fantastic opportunity.