The Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology conducts pioneering research into the impact of drugs on the brain, with a view to better understanding brain functions and developing new treatments for disorders such as addiction and depression. 

The core business of the centre is related to neuroimaging with PET and fMRI to understand the neuropharmacology of substance misuse and addiction. We have major funding from the MRC to study new approaches to the treatment of addiction to alcohol, heroin, cocaine and tobacco. These studies attempt to explore how the brain may be dysregulated to underpin addiction using neuroimaging. We use PET scanning to identify alterations in essential receptors e.g. for GABA, opioid, and dopamine systems as well as for inflammation as well for estimating the release of endogenous neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins.  We also use fMRI to explore brain mechanisms and have developed an experimental platform to investigate new approaches to treatment through assessing the impact of drug challenges on fMRI measures of brain activation during a range of tasks such as reward, impulsivity, and emotional dysregulation. We are also moving into the new field of testing if drugs that affect appetite hormones and their receptors can be of use in regulating the brain mechanisms that lead to relapse to addiction. In recent years, we have set up a group to explore the modes of action of psychedelic drugs on brain activity and connectivity and have performed some of the first human neuroscience studies ever with LSD and psilocybin. 

We also develop new PET ligands (for example, we have the world’s first radiotracer for astrocytes), and develop new pharmacological approaches to release endogenous neurotransmitters (e.g. the use of amfetamine to induce endorphin release). We also have longstanding expertise in EEG and more recently in MEG. We use these approaches to explore the effects of drugs on brain function in disease states and in matched control participants

Our key collaborators include the experimental fMRI platform - ICCAM with the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester to study drugs for relapse prevention in addictions. We also work closely with the PET teams in Imanova the London-based research facility. Some of our PET radiotracer development is done in collaboration with Yale University USA and our psychedelic research is conducted with UCL.

Research groups and centre leadership

Head of Centre

Head of Neuropsychopharmacology
Professor David Nutt is currently the Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences. He has edited the Journal of Psychopharmacology for over two decades and acts as the psychiatry drugs advisor to the British National Formulary. He has published over 400 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and books chapters, eight government reports on drugs and 27 books.

Further information on Professor Nutt

Deputy Head

Deputy Head of Neuropsychopharmacology
Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes is the Chair of the Academic Faculty of RCPsych. Her research has focused on using neuroimaging and neuropharmacological challenges to characterize the neurobiology of addiction. In particular she has used positron emission tomography (PET) to characterize the dopamine, opioid and GABA-benzodiazepine receptor systems in alcoholism and opiate dependence. She was previously the Hon. General Secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, having co-developed their guidelines about the pharmacological management of substance misuse and addiction.

Professor Lingford-Hughes leads the MRC Addiction Research Clinical Training Programme (MARC) with Prof Colin Drummond, IOPPN, KCL and Prof Matt Hickman, University of Bristol. For events and opportunities associated with MARC see the MRC Addiction Research website

Further information on Professor Lingford-Hughes

Research team