Stefan Borgwardt's Lab

About the lab

Our Translational Psychiatry research group focuses on the pathophysiology of mental disorders, their early detection, and their prevention and treatment. We are an interdisciplinary team consisting of scientists and health care personnel from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neurophysiology, neuroimaging, mathematics, and biomedical engineering. We run a variety of pharmacological, clinical, and intervention studies that will support the development of tools for individualized prediction and treatment. Our research group is part of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Lübeck and the Center of integrative Psychiatry at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein.

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Featured research (11)

Background Patients with psychotic disorders present alterations in thalamocortical intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) as measured by resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI). Specifically, thalamic iFC is increased with sensorimotor cortices (hyperconnectivity) and decreased with prefrontal-limbic cortices (hypoconnectivity). Intriguingly, psychedelics such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) elicit similar thalamocortical-hyperconnectivity with sensorimotor areas in healthy volunteers. It is unclear whether LSD also induces thalamocortical-hypoconnectivity with prefrontal-limbic cortices as current findings are equivocal. Notably, thalamocortical-hyperconnectivity was associated with psychotic symptoms in patients and substance-induced altered states of consciousness in healthy volunteers. Thalamocortical dysconnectivity is likely evoked by altered neurotransmission, e.g., via dopaminergic excess in psychotic disorders and serotonergic agonism in psychedelic-induced states. It is unclear whether thalamocortical dysconnectivity is also elicited by amphetamine-type substances, broadly releasing monoamines (i.e., dopamine, norepinephrine) but producing fewer perceptual effects than psychedelics. Methods We administrated LSD, d-amphetamine, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in 28 healthy volunteers and investigated their effects on thalamic iFC with two brain networks (auditory-sensorimotor (ASM) and salience (SAL) – corresponding to sensorimotor and prefrontal-limbic cortices, respectively), using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design. Results All active substances elicited ASM-thalamic-hyperconnectivity compared to placebo, despite predominantly distinct pharmacological actions and subjective effects. LSD-induced effects correlated with subjective changes in perception, indicating a link between hyperconnectivity and psychedelic-type perceptual alterations. Unlike d-amphetamine and MDMA, which induced hypoconnectivity with SAL, LSD elicited hyperconnectivity. D-amphetamine and MDMA evoked similar thalamocortical dysconnectivity patterns. Conclusions Psychedelics, empathogens, and psychostimulants evoke thalamocortical-hyperconnectivity with sensorimotor areas, akin to findings in patients with psychotic disorders.
Structural MRI studies in first-episode psychosis and the clinical high-risk state have consistently shown volumetric abnormalities. Aim of the present study was to introduce radiomics texture features in identification of psychosis. Radiomics texture features describe the interrelationship between voxel intensities across multiple spatial scales capturing the hidden information of underlying disease dynamics in addition to volumetric changes. Structural MR images were acquired from 77 first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients, 58 clinical high-risk patients with no later transition to psychosis (CHR_NT), 15 clinical high-risk patients with later transition (CHR_T) and 44 healthy controls (HC). Radiomics texture features were extracted from non-segmented images, and two classification schemas were performed for the identification of FEP vs. HC and FEP vs. CHR_NT. The group of CHR_T was used as external validation in both schemas. The classification of a subject’s clinical status was predicted by importing separately a) the difference of entropy feature map and b) the contrast feature map, resulting in classification accuracy above 72% in both analyses. The proposed framework enhances the classification decision for FEP, CHR_NT and HC subjects, verifies diagnosis-relevant features and may potentially contribute to identification of structural biomarkers for psychosis, beyond and above volumetric brain changes.
Structural MRI studies in first-episode psychosis (FEP) and in clinical high risk (CHR) patients have consistently shown volumetric abnormalities in frontal, temporal, and cingulate cortex areas. The aim of the present study was to employ chaos analysis in the identification of people with psychosis. Structural MRI were acquired from 73 CHR, 77 FEP and 44 healthy controls (HC). Chaos analysis of the grey matter distribution was performed: first, the distances of each voxel from the center of mass in the grey matter image was calculated. Next, the distances multiplied by the voxel intensity was represented as a spatial-series, which then was analyzed by extracting the Largest-Lyapunov-Exponent (lambda). The lambda brain map depicts how the grey matter topology changes. The classification of a subject’s clinical status was finally predicted by a) comparing the lambda brain maps, which resulted in statistically significant differences in FEP and CHR compared to HC; and b) matching the lambda series with the Morlet wavelet, which resulted in 100% accuracy in distinguishing between FEP and CHR. The proposed framework using spatial-series extraction enhances the classification decision for FEP, CHR and HC subjects, verifies diagnosis-relevant features and may potentially contribute to the identification of structural biomarkers for psychosis.
Psychiatry has a well-established tradition of comparing drug-induced experiences to psychotic symptoms, based on shared phenomena such as altered perceptions. The present review focuses on experiences induced by classic psychedelics, which are substances capable of eliciting powerful psychoactive effects, characterized by distortions/alterations of several neurocognitive processes (e.g., hallucinations). Herein we refer to such experiences as psychedelic states. Psychosis is a clinical syndrome defined by impaired reality testing, also characterized by impaired neurocognitive processes (e.g., hallucinations and delusions). In this review we refer to acute phases of psychotic disorders as psychotic states. Neuropharmacological investigations have begun to characterize the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning the shared and distinct neurophysiological changes observed in psychedelic and psychotic states. Mounting evidence indicates changes in thalamic filtering, along with disturbances in cortico-striato-pallido-thalamo-cortical (CSPTC)-circuitry, in both altered states. Notably, alterations in thalamocortical functional connectivity were reported by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. Thalamocortical dysconnectivity and its clinical relevance are well-characterized in psychotic states, particularly in schizophrenia research. Specifically, studies report hyperconnectivity between the thalamus and sensorimotor cortices and hypoconnectivity between the thalamus and prefrontal cortices, associated with patients' psychotic symptoms and cognitive disturbances, respectively. Intriguingly, studies also report hyperconnectivity between the thalamus and sensorimotor cortices in psychedelic states, correlating with altered visual and auditory perceptions. Taken together, the two altered states appear to share clinically and functionally relevant dysconnectivity patterns. In this review we discuss recent findings of thalamocortical dysconnectivity, its putative extension to CSPTC circuitry, along with its clinical implications and future directions.

Lab head

Stefan Borgwardt
  • Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie
About Stefan Borgwardt
  • Stefan Borgwardt is appointed as Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Lübeck, Germany, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, UK.

Members (9)

André Schmidt
  • University of Basel
Mihai Avram
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Alexandra Korda
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Léon Franzen
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Valerie-Noelle Trulley
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Helena Rogg
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Marina Frisman
  • Universität zu Lübeck
Marco Heide
  • Universitätsklinikum Schleswig - Holstein
Yu-Shiuan Lin
Yu-Shiuan Lin
  • Not confirmed yet