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Approved Research

Mapping brain networks associated with psychiatric symptoms to develop generative models and new targeted therapeutic interventions

Principal Investigator: Dr Luca Cocchi
Approved Research ID: 67271
Approval date: August 26th 2021

Lay summary

The causes of psychiatric disorders remain mostly unknown. Diverse presentations, frequent comorbidities, and common genetic risk factors across disorders suggest that current psychiatric nosologies do not accurately reflect the underlying biology. For example, an individual with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder will likely share symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Opaque distinctions between symptoms and disorders have hampered the identification of accurate 'biomarkers' of mental disorders and the subsequent development of effective treatments. This problem has been recognised by both the National Institute of Mental Health's Research Domain Criteria initiative (RDoC) and the European Roadmap for Mental Health Research.

Other (non-psychiatric) medical disorders have greatly benefited from the identification of biomarkers. For example, type II diabetes presents with a heterogeneous set of symptoms (e.g., increased thirst, fatigue, weight loss) that overlap with many other illnesses. However, accurate diagnosis and ongoing treatment is based upon biology, namely the amount of haemoglobin A1c in the blood. Moving beyond the categorical classifications of psychiatric disorders will require the development of predictive neuroimaging markers and causal biophysical models. These advances will allow the development of targeted symptoms-based interventions.

We plan to leverage the substantial UK Biobank database to map the brain correlates of OCD and anxiety-related symptoms. We will then test if this information can be used to predict response to non-invasive brain stimulation in individuals with OCD. Moreover, neuroimaging information will be used to develop a new mathematical model informing on the likely neural causes underpinning symptoms-related neuroimaging markers. The outcomes of this project will provide new knowledge on the neural causes of OCD and anxiety symptoms, as well as facilitate the development of new personalised therapeutic interventions.