The Psychopharmacology Lab - image of a brain with sections highlighted in yellow and bluw
Yellow highlight indicates brain areas preferentially involved in ignoring. Blue highlight indicates brain areas preferentially involved in updating.
100 years of Psychopharmacological research has consistently shown that the psychological effects of psychoactive compounds vary substantially across individuals. 
Clinically, this is problematic because it means that while some patients may benefit from a particular medication others will not (or they might even get worse). 
One of the key goals of the Psychopharmacology lab, in concert with other labs in BRIC, is to understand the factors that affect individual variation in response to drugs, such as personality, baseline cognitive performance, genetics, and baseline neurochemistry. Making substantial progress in this area will allow for medications to be given in a bespoke manner and open the door for precision medicine. 
Dr Sean Fallon
Dr Sean Fallon

Neuropsychopharmacological mechanisms of short-term memory

Problems in maintaining information over short timescales, particularly in the presence of distracting information, are frequently reported in psychiatric and neurological conditions, such as in people diagnosed with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD).
People with diagnoses of ADHD or PD are frequently prescribed medications to improve their short-term memory. Usually, these conditions are treated with pharmacological compounds that affect the neurotransmitter dopamine. Are these treatments effective? 
Most of the scientific evidence suggests that using dopamine-altering compounds to improve short-term memory can be a double-edged sword: memory can be improved in some contexts but impaired in others.
This project aims to uncover:
  • The psychological contexts in which altering dopamine improves or impairs short-term memory.
  • Factors present within an individual (e.g., genetics or personality) that influence the response to dopaminergic medications.
  • Novel pharmacological compounds that can be used in conjunction or instead of dopamine-altering compounds to achieve more effective remedies for deficits in short-term memory.

Exploring the ability of methylphenidate (Ritalin) to modulate social learning and its implications in treating depression

Critical to navigating through our dynamic social environment lies the ability to flexibly adapt our behaviour according to positive and negative outcomes.
Namely, we should try to repeat behaviours that lead to positive outcomes and avoid those that lead to negative outcomes. However, this process can go awry, particularly in conditions like depression and can have devastating social and economic consequences.
Changes in the way the neurotransmitter dopamine affect neuronal behaviour, particularly in region of the brain called the ventral striatum, is one of the chief culprits for this behaviour. Accordingly, modifying dopamine levels in this region, with a dopamine-altering drug like methylphenidate, could be used as a potential treatment in depression.
However, before the effects of methylphenidate are examined in patients, work in the PSLAB at BRIC is trying to uncover whether social learning can be modified by methylphenidate in non-depressed populations.

Using acute exposure to C02 as a model of anxiety

It may surprise you, given how many terrible things there on in the world, that scientists have generally not had access to quantifiable, safe, ethical ways of temporarily inducing anxiety into human subjects. However, this is changing. The PSLAB at BRIC is making use of a well-validated way of modelling anxiety. By administering a low level of C02 it is possible to induce anxiety-like symptoms of increased heart rate and blood pressure. Current projects using this method are looking at:
  • Its effects on social learning.
  • Its effects on vascular response measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (FNIRS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI).
  • Pharmacological manipulations that negate the anxiety-induced symptoms.
Researchers in the psychopharmacology lab, BRIC
Researchers in the psychopharmacology lab, BRIC