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The Translational Neurobiology group within the Psychosis Studies research stream investigates relationships between the brain, biology and behaviour in schizophrenia and psychotic disorders in order to understand why and how these disorders develop. We use brain imaging (structural, molecular and functional), cognitive assessment and clinically accessible tissue (blood and cerebrospinal fluid) to investigate the biological mechanisms and brain changes underlying psychotic disorders and their cognitive, clinical and functional correlates. An important aspect of our research is to test and validate models developed at the benchside (e.g. in animal studies) in people living with psychotic disorders across a broad spectrum of disease risk, including subclinical psychosis, help-seeking youth, and during early and established stages of the illness.


Dr Ye Tian (Research Assistant)
Rebecca Cooper (PhD Candidate)

Ali Stevens (Research Assistant)
Megan Thomas (PhD Candidate)

The Translational Neurobiology Group has a number of Honours, Masters and PhD projects available for 2022 commencement. Hover over the boxes below to find information on each project.

Please contact Vanessa Cropley (email) for further information.

The PIPs Study: Proteins of the Immune System in Psychosis

The human brain continuous to develop well into young adulthood. This development is characterised by white matter growth and the elimination and refinement of synaptic connections (called synaptic pruning). Research has demonstrated that the immune system and the environment shape brain developmental processes. Alteration in brain development may also confer risk for psychiatric illness, including psychosis. The ‘Proteins of the Immune system in Psychosis’ (PIPs) study combines multimodal neuroimaging, blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and phenotypic assessment in young adults in the general community to understand factors that impact individual differences in brain development and risk for psychosis. PhD students will have the opportunity to develop a project examining independent or interactive associations between the environment, immune proteins, subclinical psychosis and brain development (as inferred from neuroimaging). Students will have the opportunity to be involved in participant recruitment and assessment. This project is suitable for applicants with an undergraduate degree in biomedicine, biological science, psychology, neuroscience, health sciences or related discipline.

Sleep and brain development in adolescence

An exciting opportunity exists to take part in the ‘Imaging in the Circadian Light in Adolescence, Sleep, and School’ (iCLASS) study. This study, which involves researchers at Monash University and the University of Melbourne, is examining how changes in sleep in adolescence impacts brain development. In this prospective, longitudinal study, brain development will be assessed with repeated neuroimaging assessments of brain structure and function. We will test whether changes in comprehensive measures of sleep-wake patterns and circadian phase predict brain development and in turn, later psychopathology. This project would be suitable for applicants with an undergraduate degree in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience, health sciences or related discipline, with an interest in clinical work.

Understanding sleep and psychosis

Sleep and circadian problems are common in people with psychotic disorders. This project will investigate sleep problems in the development, maintenance and management of psychosis. Specific projects might include: i) mapping short-term changes in sleep, psychotic-like experiences, psychopathology and cognition using ecological momentary assessment in young people from the community; ii) comprehensively assess the extent of sleep problems in individuals with psychosis and their experience of these problems (called phenomenology); iii) assess the association between specific sleep problems and worsening of specific symptoms or cognitive functions. This project is suitable for applicants with an undergraduate degree in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience, health sciences or related discipline, with an interest in clinical work. The project will involve collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University. 

Mapping brain metabolites across the brain

The PIPs study will acquire brain imaging scans called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) that measure the level of small metabolites in brain tissue. Unlike previous MRS studies that measure brain metabolites in single voxels or brain slices based on a priori regions, the current study will acquire the brain metabolites at every voxel of the brain. This will allow various brain metabolites, including those indexing neuropil contraction and expansion, oxidative stress and energy metabolism, to be mapped across the entire cortical surface. This is important as the timing and level of brain metabolites varies across brain regions. We are seeking an enthusiastic student to work on advanced methods to quantify the MRS spectra to generate the metabolite maps across the cortex. This work will be done in collaboration with researchers within the Department of Radiology and the University of Geneva. This project is suitable for students with a background in engineering, computation, neuroimaging or related discipline.     


Psychosis is a severe mental illness that typically emerges in adolescence and young adulthood; a time when substantial brain development is taking place. Recently, elements of the complement cascade have been associated with increased risk of schizophrenia. The complement cascade is involved in innate immunity and has been shown to be involved in synaptic pruning, a maturational process thought to underlie cortical thinning (grey matter loss) in schizophrenia. However, evidence of this process in living humans is scant. Preliminary data from our group has revealed that elevated complement protein levels in blood, and accelerated loss of grey matter, in the early stages of psychotic illness are related to poor outcome. This project seeks to unify and advance these separate observations to test an integrated model of complement-mediated cortical thinning in the development of psychosis. The PIP project will i) test whether complement proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid are altered in recent-onset schizophrenia, and ii) test whether dysregulation of these proteins are associated with cortical thinning and clinical outcome. The PIP study will be a multi-site cohort-study of participants with DSM-5 schizophrenia-spectrum disorder within the first 5-years of illness and 40 age- and gender-matched healthy controls with no major psychiatric illness of family history of psychotic disorder. Participants will undergo clinical, cognitive, blood and cerebrospinal fluid and imaging assessments. 

Funding: NHMRC


Cropley, V.L., Klauser, P., Lenroot, R.K., Bruggemann, J., Sundram, S., Bousman, C., Pereira, A., Di Biase, M.A., Weickert, T.W., Weickert, C.S., Pantelis, C., Zalesky, A., 2017. Accelerated Gray and White Matter Deterioration With Age in Schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry 174(3), 286-295.


Di Biase, M.A., Zalesky, A., O'Keefe, G., Laskaris, L., Baune, B.T., Weickert, C.S., Olver, J., McGorry, P.D., Amminger, G.P., Nelson, B., Scott, A.M., Hickie, I., Banati, R., Turkheimer, F., Yaqub, M., Everall, I.P., Pantelis, C., Cropley, V., 2017. PET imaging of putative microglial activation in individuals at ultra-high risk for psychosis, recently diagnosed and chronically ill with schizophrenia. Transl Psychiatry 7(8), e1225.


Laskaris, L., Zalesky, A., Weickert, C.S., Di Biase, M.A., Chana, G., Baune, B.T., Bousman, C., Nelson, B., McGorry, P., Everall, I., Pantelis, C., Cropley, V., 2018. Investigation of peripheral complement factors across stages of psychosis. Schizophr Res.


Laskaris, L.E., Di Biase, M.A., Everall, I., Chana, G., Christopoulos, A., Skafidas, E., Cropley, V.L., Pantelis, C., 2016. Microglial activation and progressive brain changes in schizophrenia. Br J Pharmacol 173(4), 666-680.


Wannan, C.M.J., Cropley, V.L., Chakravarty, M.M., Van Rheenen, T.E., Mancuso, S., Bousman, C., Everall, I., McGorry, P.D., Pantelis, C., Bartholomeusz, C.F., 2018. Hippocampal subfields and visuospatial associative memory across stages of schizophrenia-spectrum disorder. Psychol Med, 1-11.


Cropley, V.L., Lin, A., Nelson, B., Reniers, R., Yung, A.R., Bartholomeusz, C.F., Klauser, P., Velakoulis, D., McGorry, P., Wood, S.J., Pantelis, C., 2016. Baseline grey matter volume of non-transitioned "ultra high risk" for psychosis individuals with and without attenuated psychotic symptoms at long-term follow-up. Schizophr Res 173(3), 152-158.


Cropley, V.L., Fujita, M., Innis, R.B., Nathan, P.J., 2006. Molecular imaging of the dopaminergic system and its association with human cognitive function. Biol Psychiatry 59(10), 898-907.

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