Research in the Vernon lab at the MRC CNDD is focused around two themes:
1) Maps to mechanisms - linking neuroimaging data to behavioural, molecular and cellular phenotypes
We seek to understand how alterations in brain structure and function, as measured by MRI and PET from individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders aligns with appropriate experimental animal and cellular models using a reverse-translational approach. This is necessary to advance knowledge of causative biological pathways and establish brain-behaviour relationships to facilitate the discovery of novel therapeutics. Complementing this work, we also seek to understand the effects of drugs used to treat serious mental illness, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Our goal is dissect illness from putative iatrogenic effects of medications and by understanding the long-term impact of psychotropic drug treatment, inform the clinical use of these drugs, to improve risk: benefit profiles.
2) Microglia and their potential pathological roles in psychiatric and neurological disorders
Using microglia and neurons differentiated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC), we seek to understand how genetic risk for neurodevelopmental disorders impacts on human microglia form and function. Specifically, we study the effects of highly penetrant copy number variants (e.g. 22q11.2 deletions) and polygenic risk associated with diagnosis of schizophrenia on microglia form and function. To facilitate this we have developed models of neuron-microglia and microglia-synapse interactions in the context of brain development and disease. This includes 2D co-cultures and 3D organoid systems, for which we have also developed optical clearing and light sheet imaging methods to visualize neurodevelopmental processes in 3D.
Anthony Vernon is a Training Co-ordinator for the MRC-ITND PhD Programme