Much of the progress in the medical field has been made through the development of animal models of illness. Although mental illnesses are fundamentally difficult to model in animals, it is possible to design cognitive behavioural tests for rats and other species which are very similar to the tests used clinically to identify cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric populations. We can then study how well animals perform these tests after different pharmacological or behavioural manipulations, and use that information to make testable predictions regarding the workings of the human brain.

When we propose to model impulsivity in a lab setting, we need to think about what the term “impulsivity” really means. Factor analysis of self-report questionnaires reveals that impulsivity is made up of a number of relatively independent dimensions which can be affected to different degrees in individuals with impulse control disorders (ICDs). By fractionating impulsivity into its component parts, it has proved possible to design specific behavioural tests which measure different types of impulsivity, and related processes, in rats. Research in both humans and animals indicate that these different forms are critically regulated by different brain regions and neurotransmitter systems. A better understanding of this biological regulation could stimulate the development of better treatments for ICDs, and explain why not all individuals respond to the same therapies.

For more information about the specific projects we’re currently working on, click one of the tabs to the left of the screen.