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Psychiatry Research Teams

Novel Phenotyping and Integrative Neuroscience Group

Nancy Andreasen, MD, PhD

The Novel Phenotyping and Integrative Neuroscience group emphasizes the use of multimodal approaches for identifying more biologically-based or mechanistically-based definitions of psychiatry disorders, with an emphasis on psychotic disorders. The recent publication of DSM-5 has highlighted the ongoing problems that psychiatric research has had in achieving this goal.

The current challenge for refining definitions of clinical phenotypes in psychiatric disorders is to modernize approaches to phenotype definition so that they parallel the advances occurring in other medical specialties, most of which use multifactorial approaches to phenotype definition that encompass a broad range of symptomatic, biological, and genetic features. The success of the Human Genome Project and related projects (e.g., the Hapmap, the development of publically available bioinformatics resources) have conceptually revolutionized thinking about the ways in which the search for phenotypes must be guided. It has created a new discipline that is sometimes referred to as “phenomics.”

Traditional psychiatric disease definitions have taken a narrow approach and relied almost exclusively on symptoms. On the other hand, phenomics takes a broad approach to defining the concept of the phenotype. That is, the phenotype includes not just clinical symptoms and other “behavioral” measures, but also morphological, biochemical, and physiological characteristics. It stresses the importance of collecting these broadly-defined phenotypic measures on individuals at a series of different levels—clinical symptoms and behavior, cognitive systems, neural circuits/networks, tissues, molecules, and genes. What will eventually emerge from a phenomic approach is a more valid and etiologically-based definition of disease phenotypes that may be quite different from those created by using the clinical level alone, as has been the tradition in psychiatry for the past century. Our group has been pursuing this approach for many years and has had extensive experience in integrating the study of clinical descriptors with other biological measures gleaned from fields such as imaging and genetics. Our goal is to explore the power of using a series of biological measures—genotypes, molecular and cellular measurements, neural circuits and systems—in order to identify novel phenotypes that will have improved predictive validity for selecting treatments or predicting outcomes.

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Neuroimaging and Noninvasive Brain Stimulation

Aaron Boes, MD, PhD 

Our lab is interested in the link between brain structure and function across the lifespan, particularly network-based localization of neurological and psychiatric symptoms. We approach this topic using multi-modal neuroimaging methods that include lesion mapping, resting state functional connectivity MRI, and structural MRI.  Another focus of the lab is to use advanced imaging techniques in conjunction with neuromodulation to better understand the therapeutic mechanisms of brain stimulation, including transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of depression.  The ultimate aim of the research program is to better understand how dysfunctional networks contribute to neurological and psychiatric symptoms, and use this information to design novel therapies using noninvasive brain stimulation to target these dysfunctional networks. Our laboratory collaborates closely with other UI investigators using noninvasive neuromodulation techniques. Learn more


Hans Johnson, PhD

Hans Johnson, PhD., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and directs the SINAPSE (Scalable Informatics, Neuroimaging, Analysis, Processing and Software Engineering) lab. The SINAPSE lab is involved in several imaging and informatics projects that focused on developing the tools necessary to monitor, manage, and foster collaborative data sharing for large-scale multi-site projects. We have experience supporting large multi-site projects like NeuroNext clinical trial initiative, 11 site function Biomedical Informatics Research Network (fBIRN), and the NIH funded 28-site longitudinal PREDICT-HD study. The SINAPSE team provides expertise in Biomedical, Electrical, and Computer Engineering to provide a solid foundation for achieving the research objectives of accelerating brain research through development of automated software processes.

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Molecular Psychiatry

John Wemmie, MD, PhD

The Molecular Psychiatry Division was created to combine cutting edge neuroscience, genetic, and pharmacological approaches so that we can better understand brain function and behavior. Its laboratories, faculty, and students are united by the common goals of finding the molecular causes of psychiatric illnesses including schizophrenia, autism, depression, bipolar affective disorder, and anxiety disorders. These efforts are aimed at developing better treatments for these complex and often devastating disorders. Division Head, John Wemmie, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, is interested in the role of brain pH and acid-sensing ion channels in brain function and behavior. This work has led to the discovery of critical roles for brain pH in synaptic plasticity, anxiety, and depression-related behaviors in mice. Current projects include investigating the synaptic mechanisms for acid-sensing ion channel action and also translating these discoveries to human behavior and brain function. For example, his laboratory is using non-invasive pH-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the roles of brain pH in psychiatric illnesses such as panic disorder and bipolar affective disorder.

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