Brain Imaging & Neuropsychology

By Paolo Brambilla

The Unit of Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology (RUBIN) was first established in the spring of 2003. Since 2005 it is a member of the ICBN InterUniversity Center of Behavioral Neuroscience (University of Udine and University of Verona). Our main interest is to better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of the major psychoses (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and unipolar depression) and to study the possible connection with outcome, neuropsychological and biological measures, using a multidimensional approach. The main aim of our research group is to increase the knowledge of possible neural circuitry in these disorders, to study the timing and development of the neuroanatomical alterations, in order to achieve the knowledge for an early detection and treatment of these disorders.The two main fields of research are: 1) Brain Imaging: Different neuroimaging techniques based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are being used to investigate the neurobiological bases of affective and psychotic spectrum disorders, i.e. structural MRI, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), tractography, perfusion weighted imaging (PWI), MR spectroscopy (MRS), and functional MRI (fMRI). They allow to finely investigate brain microstructure, connectivity, vascular organization, biochemistry and activation. The samples taking part to the studies are assessed at baseline after a 12 month follow up. 2) Neuropsychology: A full neuropsychological assessment has been designed to assess specific neuropsychological components that may be impaired in major psychoses, such as executive functions, language and cerebral communication. The subjects are studied at baseline and at after a 12 month follow up in order to build a neuropsychological profile of patients to be compared with neuroanatomical and functional data. Moreover, we have recently started a collaboration with the Neuroimmunology Unit of Ospedale San Raffaele in Milan, to characterize the immunological profile of our sample, by the blood level of inflammatory and pro-inflammatory cells and antibodies.


Dr. Paolo Brambilla, Psychiatrist, PhD
Dr. Marcella Bellani, Psychiatrist, PhD
Ing. Gianluca Rambaldelli, Computer Scientist
Dr. Cinzia Perlini, Psychologist, PhD
Dr. Nicola Dusi, Psychiatrist, PhD
Dr. Letizia Squarcina, Biomedical Engineer, PhD
Dr. Veronica Marinelli, Psychologist, PhD student

Dr. Gloria Rossetti, Psychologist, PhD student


The FIRST Study (Following Imaging Resilience features in Schizophrenia and AffecTive disorder)
A longitudinal MRI study with structural, diffusion and perfusion acquisitions is currently in progress. It has been investigating brain anatomy in a representative cohort of schizophrenic and bipolar disorder patients recruited from the catchment area of Verona, a city of 300.000 inhabitants. So far, several brain structures have been investigated with structural and diffusion MRI, a tool that provides information on brain tissue water mobility, a measure of axonal or myelin integrity. Our findings have shown abnormalities in corpus callosum, cortical white matter, enthorinal cortex and thalamus of patients with schizophrenia. This may suggest the presence of a dysfunctional circuitry, possibly sustaining alterations of intra- and inter-hemispheric connectivity and neuropsychological functions.

The PREVENT Study (Prevention on Psychotic and Affective Events)
A multimodal MRI study investigating brain connectivity in psychotic patients integrating psychosocial, immunonological and neuropsychological variables. Structural MRI, fMRI, MRS, and DTI are conducted to detect the functional and the biochemical maps of psychotic disorders. This integrated approach is considered appropriate to accurately associate the neural networks of major psychoses with specific psychotic signs and phenotypes.

Project "Disabilità cognitive e comportamentale nelle demenze e nelle psicosi" Sotto-obiettivo A.9: "Basi morfofunzionali cognitive e genetiche delle psicosi maggiori: uno studio integrato longitudinale"
A new project in collaboration with the Neurology department. Our sub-project involves psychiatric patients affected by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Structural MRI, fMRI, MRS, and DTI along with neuropsychological and neuroimmunological and genetic assessments are conducted to detect the functional and the biochemical maps of these disorders. A group composed by twins and 1 degree parents will be recruited to study the genetic component of the disorders.

PICOS Project (Psychosis Incident Cohort Outcome Study) - Module 3 (Brain Imaging)
The PICOS project is a multicentric study ongoing in the Veneto Region on the role of clinical, social, genetic and cerebral morphofunctional factors in predicting the outcome of first psychotic episode patients. The Brain Imaging &; Neuropsychology Research Unit represents the Module 3 of this Project and its aim is to characterize by an anatomical, functional and neuropsychological point of view patients at their first psychotic episode and after a period of two years. This study will allow to clarify to relation between cerebral morphofunctional alterations and clinical and social outcome in first psychotic episode patients.

CONTRABASS Project (COgnitive Neuroendophenotypes for Treatment and RehAbilitation of psychoses: Brain imaging, inflAmmation and StresS)
The Contrabass project is part of the Strategic Program GET UP (Genetic Endophenotypes Treatment:Understanding Early Psychosis), a multicentric national study testing a specific form of psychosocial intervention for patients with psychosis and their families. The aim of the Contrabass project is the investigation of morpho-functional and cognitive endophenothypes with MRI and neuropsychological assessment. Also, the role of both immunoendocrine system and environmental stressors in undermine white matter microstructure integrity and hence psychosis manifestation is studied. Detecting (also in a pre-clinical animal model study) the biological markers associated with psychosis, as well as to different treatment responses and outcome profiles, may represent a target for developing innovative therapeutic interventions.

SIMBAD Project (Similarity Based Pattern Recognition)
The Simbad project is a European network including several Centres (Verona, Venice, Zurich, Delft, Lisboa, York) coordinated in Verona by Informatics Department (Prof Murino, University of Verona). It has the main aim to work at pattern recognition methods applied to different research fields, including psychiatric imaging.

VIPS Project (Vulnerability Indicators of Psychosis)
An international multicentre programs in collaboration with the Section of Neurobiology of Psychosis at the Institute of Psychiatry, London (Head: Prof. S. Frangou), which aim to identify the biological signature of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in brain cognition.


"Update on depression and anxiety disorder: from neurobiology to treatment". R.B. Sassi (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, USA); G. Kinrys (Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School, USA); C.N. Soares (Harvard Medical School, USA). Università di Verona, March 30th 2007. Brochure

"The role of superior temporal lobe for cognition in humans and patients with schizofrenia", B.R. Buchsbaum (University of California, Berkeley); M.S. Buchsbaum (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York). Università di Verona, May 18th 2007. Brochure

"Altered neuroplasticity in ADHD and schizophrenia: from childhood to adulthood", J. Stanley (Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit); V. Diwadkar (Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh). Università di Verona, May 28th 2007. Brochure

"Risk, resilience and functional compensation mechanisms in bipolar disorder", S. Frangou (Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK), Università di Verona, September 28th 2007. Brochure

"Imaging studies in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: the new frontiers of modern psychopathology". P. McGuire (OASIS, Voices Clinic, IOP, London, UK); S. Marenco (GCAP, Clinical Brain Disorders Branc, NIMH, Bethesda, USA); M. Buchsbaum (Neuroscience PET Laboratory, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA); A. M. McIntosh (University of Edinburgh, Kennedy Tower, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Edinburgh, Scotland); C. McDonald (Dept. of Psychiatry, Clinical Science Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland); P. Brambilla (Inter-University Centre for Behavioural Neurosciences (ICBN), University of Udine &; University of Verona, WHO Collaborating Centre of Verona, University of Verona). Università di Verona, June 20th 2008. Brochure

"Pediatric and adult psychosis: focus on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder". E. Meisenzahl (Section of Neuroimaging LMU, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, Germany); C. Fagnani (Sezione di Epidemiologia Genetica, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma);J. Soares (Center of Excellence for Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA);F. Benedetti (Dipartimento di Neuroscienze Cliniche - Divisione di ricerca di Neuroscienze, Istituto Scientifico e Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milano). Università di Verona, October 27th 2008. Brochure