Research

The Translational Psychiatry team conducts interdisciplinary research in several key areas revolving around psychotic disorders including their prediction, neurofunctional and cognitive mechanisms, and efficacy of potential innovative treatments. We run a variety of pharmacological, clinical, and intervention studies. For these studies, we use methods including structural and functional neuroimaging, computational modelling, deep brain stimulation, metacognitive training, and genetic methods.

Please find more detailed information on the group’s research projects below.

Psychedelics

The use of psychedelics as a treatment

In the last decade, the clinical use of classical psychedelics (e.g., psilocybin, LSD, DMT) in psychiatry has experienced an upsurge. Historically, we can distinguish between two uses of psychedelics in psychiatry: acute psychedelic-induced effects as a model for psychosis, and psychedelics as treatment agents for specific mental disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety). Our group is primarily interested in the neurological basis underlying both acute and long-term (putatively therapeutic) effects.

Leading researchers: Mihai Avram, Alexandra Korda, Helena Rogg & Stefan Borgwardt

Perception

Models of daily perceptual tasks

Daily perceptual decisions such as identifying whether we just saw a human face or hear a human voice are ubiquitous. The human brain relies heavily on prior expectations and beliefs to successfully make these decisions in a split second. We combine  behavioural and EEG data in computational models to investigate the strengths and mechanisms of these predictions in the auditory and visual domains in individuals at high risk of psychosis and those with schizotypal personality disorder and schizophrenia. Differences in metacognitive efficiency in these populations are further targets of our studies on perception.

Leading researchers: Léon Franzen, Christina Andreou, Sofia Eickhoff, Jonas Obleser (Psychology) & Stefan Borgwardt

Computational prediction

New predictive algorithms and markers

We obtain large amounts of structured and unstructured data from different modalities (text, sMRI, fMRI, EEG, ECG and  video) whose information can be harnessed by state-of-the-art neural networks and computational models to improve feature extraction and the prediction of individual outcomes of people at high risk of psychosis, suicidality, and their treatment response. The predictive success relies heavily on developing new computational algorithms for finding reliable neural markers that stand the test of large patient samples. Overall, we aim to reveal the mechanisms hidden in the human brain using explainable AI techniques.

Leading researchers: Alexandra Korda, Marina Frisman, Alena Nag, Marco Heide, Helena Rogg, Christina Andreou & Stefan Borgwardt

Brain-Gut axis

Brain and gut interactions in obesity and depression

Obesity and depressive disorders are among the greatest public health challenges, with increasing prevalences worldwide. Depressive disorders and obesity co-occur in clusters and it is believed that about one-third of all individuals with depression belong to the “metabolic” subtype. There is therefore an urgent need for action to develop better preventive and therapeutic strategies. Specific dietary interventions are one possibility. Preclinical studies showed that a low-carbohydrate diet can be as helpful for obesity and associated metabolic syndrome as it is for depression. However, there have been no clinical trials in which depression was treated with a low-carbohydrate diet.

This is a multicenter, binational study in collaboration with the St. Clara Forschung AG of the St. Claraspital Basel. It investigates the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on people with depression and obesity compared with normal-weight and healthy subjects. In addition to diet, weight, glucose metabolism, the gut microbiome, and markers of neuroinflammation and neuroplasticity are being examined.

Leading researchers: Frederike Buschmann, Vallery-Noelle Trulley, Jana Frommeyer & Stefan Borgwardt

Dopaminergic Influences

EEG resting-state connectivity & psychosis

The dopamine hypothesis has proven to be the most enduring neurobiological model of psychosis, and all currently licensed antipsychotic drugs are dopamine antagonists. Although the pharmacological actions of antipsychotics have been extensively investigated, research into how these translate into their effects on symptoms is relatively new. The present project focuses on the relationships between medication-induced changes in dopaminergic activity and brain connectivity, disturbances of which are considered to be a core neurophysiological characteristic of psychotic disorders. It uses electroencephalography (EEG) to assess how dopaminergic agents affect the fast dynamics of brain networks, drawing upon two complementary lines of research: a drug challenge study, and a longitudinal patient study.

The project aims to fill a significant knowledge gap regarding the mechanisms of action of antipsychotic drugs. Beyond their theoretical value in understanding the pathophysiology of psychosis, results are expected to be valuable in informing use-inspired research, especially given the growing interest in non-invasive neuromodulation techniques for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Leading researchers: Christina Andreou, Alina Preuss, Renate de Bock (Basel), Simon Schuster (Neurologie), Jonas Obleser (Psychology) &  Stefan Borgwardt

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

Deep brain stimulation – a promising treatment

Our team investigates the effects of deep brain stimulation on reducing the severity of symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in severely affected patients. An interdisciplinary team of psychiatrist, neurosurgeons, and neurophysiologists aims to uncover the most promising brain areas for achieving the best outcome for the patient.

Leading researchers: Helena Rogg & Stefan Borgwardt

Videogame-based metacognitive training

Can a videogame improve metacognition?

Metacognition is the ability to evaluate one’s own thinking. This ability is reduced in patients with psychosis but metacognitive trainings have shown promising results in the context of treating psychosis. In this collaborative project run with the University of Basel, we investigate whether a videogame-based training approach leads to (prolonged) improvements.

Leading researchers: Sofia Eickhoff, Christina Andreou, Léon Franzen & Stefan Borgwardt

Neurobiological and Neurocognitive Basis of Schizophrenia

What brain abnormalities exist in schizophrenia?

Throughout the past years, some neural abnormalities in psychotic disorders have been uncovered. However, the exact functional and structural markers and their link to the symptoms of psychotic disorders remains elusive. Our team uses MRI and fMRI to investigate potential abnormalities.

Leading researchers: Mihai Avram, Sofia Eickhoff, Alexandra Korda, Christina Andreou & Stefan Borgwardt
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