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  • Research Project Team

    • Professor Peter Fonagy1,
    • Professor Pasco Fearon1,
    • Dr Gita Prabhu1,
    • Danae Kokorikou,
    • Janchai King
    • Kalia Cleridou
    • Alexandra Hopkins

    Principal investigators

    • Professor Peter Fonagy1,
    • Professor Ray Dolan1,
    • Ian Goodyear2,
    • Ed Bullmore2
    • Professor Peter Jones2


  • Background

    The period of adolescence and early youth is a time of high risk for the incidence of major psychiatric and drug dependence disorders that involve neural systems. However, remarkably little is known about normal processes of human brain development in this age range.

    This lack of understanding of the normative processes of youthful brain maturation severely limits our capacity to develop neurobiological theories for emergence of psychiatric disorders as an expression of abnormal brain development.

    In turn, this limits our capacity to identify people who might be at high risk of developing a disorder, or to develop disease-modifying approaches to treatment.

    The investigators have received a Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust to develop NSPN, which brings together relevant research groups in Cambridge and London to address the key strategic question of how psychiatric disorders (depression, psychosis, conduct disorder, and personality disorder) can be understood to arise from developmentally abnormal maturation of brain systems important for reward processing, social cognition and other cognitive processes.

    U-Change is the normative foundation that will support and inform future NSPN studies focused on specific patient groups.

  • Aims

    • To measure and characterise the development of normal cognitive and emotional processes, as well as maturational changes in brain structure and function in a general population sample of healthy participants aged 14-24 years.

    • To build a normative database that will support future neuroscience-driven studies of adolescent and young adult patients with past or current mental health disorders.

    • To explore potential integration of normal cognitive and neuroimaging phenotypes with gene expression cellular phenotypes, genetic and/or epigenetic variation and endocrine measures.
  • Methodology

    A cohort of 2000-3000 healthy male and female participants, aged 14-24 years inclusive, will be recruited from the general population of Cambridgeshire and north London and surrounding areas.

    Socio-demographic data and age-appropriate self-report assessment scores on questionnaire measures of mood, behaviour, well-being, psychosocial environment and childhood experience will be obtained from all participants.

    Saliva samples will also be collected. From this cohort at least 600 participants will be invited to take part in cognitive and clinical assessments with further questionnaires and physiological measures.

    Approximately 300 of these participants will additionally take part in in an accelerated longitudinal study designed to measure the normal development of brain structure and function (measured using MRI). Blood samples will also be collected from some participants.

  • Results

    • Study end date March 2017