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Chris Barkus

MSci (Hons), DPhil

Post-doctoral Researcher

I am interested in how human genetic variants can lead to differences in complex behaviour. Such variants are implicated in psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and depression.

I am currently investigating how variation in the COMT gene affects the brain.  This is of interest as COMT regulates levels of the chemical messenger dopamine, which is involved in many aspects of healthy brain function and is implicated in several psychiatric disorders. I am studying how genetic variation in COMT alters various aspects of behaviour as well as how cells in the brain communicate with one another. I am also investigating whether these COMT variants lead to adaptive changes in the dopamine system, as secondary changes of this type may explain how a subtle change can lead to wide-ranging alterations in brain function.

My previous work similarly addressed variations in the gene for the serotonin transporter, a key regulator in the serotonin signalling system and target for antidepressant treatments. Part of this research aimed to develop better methods for measuring brain activity during cognitive tasks.

A better understanding of how the dopamine and serotonin systems affect learning and memory will enable us to better treat diseases such as schizophrenia and depression.