Program leaders:            Brenda Penninx, Sabine Spijker
Taskforce team:              Lieuwe de Haan, Harm Krugers
Program members

Rationale and common goals

Specific psychiatric disorders share common neurobiological characteristics both in development and in clinical symptoms. This is especially true for psychiatric disorders that involve severe emotional disturbances, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and even psychotic disorders. Translational, cross-disorder studies with a life span perspective (from early vulnerability to late disease chronicity) may enhance our knowledge and treatment possibilities for these disorders, which constitute a huge burden to patients but also to the society as a whole. The focus of this research program is clinically oriented but with a strong background in preclinical neuroscience and deals with all aspects related to mood, anxiety and psychosis. Our vision is to gain knowledge that can then be applied towards development of new treatments through collaborative efforts.

Aims are:

  1. To identify neurobiological mechanisms (e.g. pathophysiological and genomic mechanisms) that mediate vulnerability to and progression of mood, anxiety and psychosis;
  2. To test innovative pharmacological, behavioral or neuromodulatory interventions that can help normalize mood, anxiety and psychosis symptoms and endophenotypes in translational approaches.

Assets

Our strengths are the dissection of the mechanisms underlying these disorders in a translational approach using state-of-the art tools and preclinical models, large available patient cohorts and biobanks, and roll-out of clinical trials. In particular, the presence of large patient cohorts related to common mood disorders (e.g. unipolar, bipolar depression), common anxiety disorders (e.g. panic disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder), and disorders related to psychosis (e.g. schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder) via various large-scale ongoing cohorts such as the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) and the Genetic risk and outcome of psychosis (GROUP) study is a strong asset. In addition, we are able to study the normal variation in emotional states as mood and anxiety using general cohort databases such as the Netherlands Twin Registry (NTR).

Another strength is the presence of validated translational animal models of mood and anxiety that are critical for exploring novel intervention methods. These models are essential in bridging the gap between human genetic, pathophysiological and brain imaging studies and pre-clinical studies at the molecular and cellular level. Furthermore, we have ample experience in executing both complex, high-end clinical trials and large nationwide clinical trials. There is extensive expertise in implementing broad clinical (endo)phenotyping (using MRI, PET, EEG/MEG), as well as studies of (novel) biomarkers, neuroanatomy, neuropathology, transcriptomics, proteomics, gene finding, functional characterization, cellular and animal models.

Making the difference?

We value it highly that the emotional states that are topic of our research are examined together as they are highly comorbid conditions, and have partly a shared underlying pathophysiology. In addition, collaborative interventions and research projects with other research programs should be facilitated, in particular also in view of the partly shared neuro-immunological and neurotransmitter imbalance etiology of psychiatric disorders related to mood, anxiety and psychosis. Furthermore, because mood, anxiety and psychosis are comorbid with other psychiatric diseases (e.g. addiction) and personality traits (e.g. impulsivity and compulsivity), and brain mechanisms underlying these could overlap, our program should closely interact with related psychiatric themes and programs.