Translational Neurobiology (Psychosis Studies)

Research Overview

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are severe and distressing mental illnesses that distorts a person's perception, mood and cognition (thinking). It is characterized by periods of psychosis, which is a term used to describe a person’s loss of contact with reality, or difficulty telling what is real from what isn’t. These symptoms include hallucinations, delusions (false beliefs), paranoia and disorganized thoughts and behavior. The first symptoms of psychosis typically emerges in adolescence and young adulthood. This is a time a young person's brain is rapidly maturing and changing to support their thinking and behaviour. One of the main changes occurring during this time is the 'pruning away' of unused brain connections, and strengthening of others. Psychotic disorders are thought to be partly caused by disruptions to brain development, including to pruning and connectivity processes.

The Translational Neurobiology (Psychosis Studies) group investigates relationships between the brain, biology and behaviour in schizophrenia and psychotic disorders in order to understand why and how these disorders develop. We use brain imaging (structural, molecular and functional), cognitive assessment and clinically accessible tissue (blood and cerebrospinal fluid) to investigate biological processes (such as immune factors) and changes to brain anatomy and function, and how these relate to the clinical symptoms and cognitive and functional impairment experienced by many people with psychotic disorders. We seek to understand how these mechanisms may effect, and are affected by, development, the environment and other psychosocial factors. Our group examines these relationships in people living with psychotic disorders across a broad spectrum of disease risk and development, including youth experiencing subclinical psychosis, help-seeking youth at risk of developing psychosis, and in people with early and established illness.

Current research interests include:

  1. Examining immune proteins involved in brain pruning to see if they are disrupted in people with psychosis.
  2. Investigating how exposure to different types of early-life adversity may impact neurodevelopment to increase the risk of developing pyschosis.
  3. Examining brain structure and subclinical psychiatric symptoms in youth, including novel methods characterising deviation in brain development and causal relationships between subclincial symptoms.
  4. Examining the role of sleep on brain maturation and risk of later psychopathology, including along the psychosis spectrum.


  • Dr Ye Tian, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • Alicia Stevens, Research Assistant
  • Cassandra Wannan, PhD student
  • Rebecca Cooper, PhD student
  • Megan Thomas, PhD student


2020-2024 National Health & Medical Research Council Investigator Grant (EL2) (APP1177370). Cropley V. Refining the synaptic pruning hypothesis of psychosis in humans. Total - $1,213,344.98

2019-2023 National Health & Medical Research Council Project Grant (APP1159674). Cropley V, Zalesky A. The complement cascade, cortical thinning and the development of psychosis. Total - $572,181.60

Research Publications

Top 5 publications

Cropley V et al (in press). Brain-predicted age associates with psychopathology dimensions in youth. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. PubMed

Wannan CMJ, Cropley VL, et al (2019). Evidence for Network-Based Cortical Thickness Reductions in Schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry; 176(7):552-563. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18040380 PubMed

Laskaris L, Zalesky A, ….. Cropley V (2018). Investigation of peripheral complement factors across stages of psychosis. Schizophr Res, 204:30-37. PubMed

Cropley VL et al (2017). Accelerated gray and white matter deterioration with age in schizophrenia. The American Journal of Psychiatry 174(3):286-295. PubMed

Di Biase MA, Zalesky A, …. Cropley V (2017). PET imaging of putative microglial activation in individuals at ultra-high risk for psychosis, recently diagnosed and chronically ill with schizophrenia. Transl Psychiatry, 7(8):e1225. PubMed

Research Projects

For project inquiries, contact our research group head.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Dr Vanessa Cropley

Department / Centre

Psychiatry , Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre

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