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Title: Dopaminergic mechanisms underlying psychosis
Author: Bloomfield, Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 4872
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2016
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Schizophrenia is a potentially devastating mental illness with a complex aetiology, in which the odds ratios for environmental risk factors for the disorder are greater than the odds ratios of any single gene hitherto identified. Within schizophrenia, striatal dopamine dysfunction has been proposed to underlie the development of psychosis. The Aberrant Salience hypothesis provides an explanatory model based on empirical findings to explain how psychotic symptoms may arise from striatal hyperdopaminergia, whereby multiple risk factors converge to elevate striatal dopamine synthesis capacity as the Final Common Pathway to psychosis. Two important epidemiological risk factors for the disorder are chronic cannabis use and longterm psychosocial stress, both of which have evidence supporting effects on the dopamine system. Environmental risk factors are by their very nature modifiable, and so this thesis examined whether these environmental risk factors were associated with the same dopaminergic abnormalities that have been observed in schizophrenia with 3,4-dihydroxy-6- [18F]-fluoro-l-phenylalanine Positron Emission Tomography. This thesis also examined whether cannabis users exhibit aberrant salience processing using a behavioural task, the Salience Attribution Task. This thesis found that long-term cannabis use was associated with reduced dopamine synthesis capacity and no relationship was found between striatal dopamine synthesis capacity and cannabis-induced psychotic-like symptoms. Whilst cannabis use was not associated with increased aberrant salience processing, there was a relationship between cannabis-induced psychotic-like symptoms and aberrant salience processing. This thesis found that long-term psychosocial stress is associated with reduced dopamine synthesis capacity, although this finding may be due confounding factors. However, a positive relationship was observed between childhood and recent adult stressors and dopamine synthesis capacity. These findings call into question the hypothesis that cannabis increases the risk of psychosis by inducing the same changes observed in schizophrenia, although there some evidence to support the hypothesis that psychosocial stressors do increase risk via this mechanism.
Supervisor: Howes, Oliver Sponsor: Kings College London ; Medical Research Council ; National Institute of Health Research
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral