Investigating microglia as effectors of supragranular cortical thinning in first-episode psychosis

Research Opportunity
Masters by Research, Honours, Master of Biomedical Science
Number of Honour Places Available
Group Leader Email Number Webpage
Dr Vanessa Cropley +61 3 8344 1876 Personal web page
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
Dr Tamsyn Van Rheenen +61 3 9035 8628 Personal web page

Project Details

Psychosis is a severe mental illness that typically emerges in adolescence and young adulthood; a time when substantial brain development is taking place.It is now evident that there are subtle yet consistent neuropathological changes in psychosis. Accelerated thinning of cortical grey matter and reductions in dendritic spine density in the prefrontal cortex are two of the most robust pathological changes observed in the illness, with accumulating evidence indicating that these changes may disproportionately affect the supragranular layers of the cortex. As supragranular thinning is a normal neurodevelopmental process occurring in healthy adolescence and is largely attributed to the pruning of brain synapses and dendrites, it has been suggested that this normal neurodevelopmental process is disrupted in psychosis. In the brain, engulfment of synapses is mediated by the C3 factor of the complement cascade (a component of the immune system) and microglia cells, which are the resident immune cell of the brain. These factors have also recently been implicated in psychosis. Despite the popularity of microglial-mediated models of cortical volume loss in schizophrenia, little work has tested this empirically. This project will examine the relationship between supragranular thinning, serum C3 protein levels and a marker of microglial cell activation in individuals with first-episode psychosis. The aims of the project are to:

  1. Determine whether a MRI marker of supragranular cortical thinning, the mean gyral-sulcal thickness difference (GSD), is increased in first-episode psychosis (FEP) compared to healthy controls
  2. Determine whether there is an increase in GSD from baseline to 12-months and whether this is greater in FEP
  3. Determine whether markers of synaptic engulfment, PK11195 binding and C3 protein level, is related to markers of sulcal-specific or supragranular thinning and whether this is moderated by psychosis

The student will be responsible for the development of the proposal and refinement of study hypotheses, processing of brain imaging scans and statistical analyses. The student will be trained in the application of imaging analysis in neuropsychiatry.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry

Research Opportunities

Masters by Research, Honours, Master of Biomedical Science
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.



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