Developmental Computational Psychiatry Group

The Developmental Computational Psychiatry Group investigates why most psychiatric disorders arise before adulthood and how this is related to aberrant neurocognitive development.

Why do most mental health problems arise before adulthood? With 75% of all psychiatric disorders arising before young adulthood, adolescence is a critical period of vulnerability for developing mental health problems. However, it is unknown why adolescence is such a critical period for developing mental health problems. The goal of the Developmental Computational Psychiatry Group is to understand the neural and cognitive mechanisms that underlie the emergence of mental health problems during adolescence, and how we can use this knowledge to prevent adolescents from becoming ill.

Adolescence is also a time of prolonged cognitive development and when the brain undergoes fundamental reorganisation. We believe that it is thus critical to understand the developmental trajectories of cognition and brain development and to assess how these processes go awry in youth that are developing mental health problems. To assess this, we conducted a longitudinal study to investigate how brain development is tied to the presence of psychiatric symptoms (Ziegler*, Hauser* et al., 2019, Nat Neurosci). Using a novel marker for myelin, we showed that wide-spread myelin development continues well into adulthood. Moreover, we showed that this ongoing brain development was modulated by the presence of psychiatric traits. Subjects with high trait impulsivity or compulsivity scores showed reduced myelination in prefrontal regions, in areas known to be impaired in adults with these disorders. Our findings thus suggest that the emergence of psychiatric disorders is a consequence of aberrant brain developmental trajectories.

A key to understand how neurocognitive development goes awry and leads to mental health problems, is to identify the cognitive functions that are impaired in psychiatric patients and to trace their normative and aberrant development during childhood and adolescence (Hauser et al., 2018, JCCP). Only by understanding normative development can we detect a derailing of specific ongoing neurocognitive development. We, thus, combine decision-neuroscience studies with developmental and patient studies. For example, we have shown that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) patients suffer from excessive indecisiveness characterised by increased information gathering (Hauser et al., 2017, Translat Psychiatry). Using computational modelling, we showed this was driven by a delayed emergence of subjective sampling costs (Hauser et al., 2017, PLoS CB), and is linked to noradrenaline functioning (Hauser et al, 2018, J Neurosci). Using paediatric OCD patients and normative developmental studies, we demonstrated that information gathering matures in early adolescence and that juvenile OCD patients already show the same indecisiveness as adults (Hauser et al., in prep). This means that a neurocognitive derailing takes place early during development and that prevention is necessary before onset of adolescence.

Research Foci

  • Neurocognitive development and its relation to mental health
  • Neural mechanisms and pharmacology of decision making and learning
  • Neural mechanisms underlying Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Key References

Chew, B., Hauser, T. U., Papoutsi, M., Magerkurth, J., Dolan, R. J., & Rutledge, R. B. (2019). Endogenous fluctuations in the dopaminergic midbrain drive behavioral choice variability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(37), 18732. doi:10.1073/pnas.1900872116

Hauser, T. U., Will, G.-J., Dubois, M., & Dolan, R. J. (2019). Annual research review: Developmental computational psychiatry. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60, 412-426. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12964

Ziegler, G., Hauser, T. U., Moutoussis, M., Bullmore, E. T., Goodyer, I. M., Fonagy, P., Jones, P. B., NSPN Consortium, Lindenberger, U., & Dolan, R. J. (2019). Compulsivity and impulsivity traits linked to attenuated developmental fronto-striatal myelination trajectories. Nature Neuroscience, 22, 992-999. doi:10.1038/s41593-019-0394-3

Hauser, T. U., Moutoussis, M., Purg, N., Dayan, P., & Dolan, R. J. (2018). Beta-blocker propranolol modulates decision urgency during sequential information gathering. Journal of Neuroscience, 38, 7170-7178. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0192-18.2018

Hauser, T. U., Eldar, E., & Dolan, R. J. (2017). Separate mesocortical and mesolimbic pathways encode effort and reward learning signals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(35), E7395. doi:10.1073/pnas.1705643114

Hauser, T. U., Moutoussis, M., Iannaccone, R., Brem, S., Walitza, S., Drechsler, R., Dayan, P., & Dolan, R. J. (2017). Increased decision thresholds enhance information gathering performance in juvenile Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). PLoS Computational Biology, 13(4):e1005440. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005440

Hauser, T. U., Moutoussis, M., NSPN Consortium, Dayan, P., & Dolan, R. J. (2017). Increased decision thresholds trigger extended information gathering across the compulsivity spectrum. Translational Psychiatry, 7:1296. doi:10.1038/s41398-017-0040-3

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