Research

The research mission of the Department of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Tokyo is to contribute to scientific advances in the understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Our research encompasses neuroimaging, basic molecular/cellular and genetic approaches, as well as clinical investigations and population-based outcomes research.

Key research areas

1) Neuroimaging

Our research plays a leading role in psychiatric neuroimaging research in Japan and aims at multi-modality neuroimaging (structural and functional MRI, MR spectroscopy, EEG, MEG, and near-infrared spectroscopy [NIRS]) in schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorders (http://brainminds.jp/en/clinical).

2) Molecular/cellular neuroscience

The goal of the molecular cellular neuroscience group is to build causal bridges among the molecular, cellular, neural systems, and behavior on the rodent model of neuropsychiatric disorders. We employ integrated multidisciplinary techniques including genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, histology, electrophysiology, imaging and behavioral analysis for elucidating molecular pathophysiology of rodent models of neuropsychiatric disorders.

3) Genetic and Epidemiology research

The Genetic Research Group of the department is investigating genetic as well as environmental mechanism of psychiatric disorders. A major focus of the studies is exploration of susceptibility genes and clarification of the role of epigenetics in neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and bipolar disorder. We are also conducting a large-scale population-based cohort study in adolescence (http://npsy.umin.jp/amsr/english.html).

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) as “next-generation”, “real-world” neuroimaging: Developing biomarkers to support early and accurate diagnosis of psychiatric disorders.
The overall disease burden of psychiatric and neurological disorders is equivalent to that of cancer or cardiovascular disease, and is particularly high in adolescence and young adulthood. Objective biomarkers allowing accurate, early diagnosis and treatment could help reduce this burden. However, current diagnostic methods rely on doctors’ examinations and patient and family reports. Even globally, there are very few examples of biomarkers being used to diagnose mental illness.

In our laboratory we currently focus on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a simple, non-invasive form of neuroimaging with minimal patient burden and suited to applications in psychiatric disorders. In a framework of academia-industry collaborations with other medical and research institutions including Gunma University and National Center of Neurology & Psychiatry (NCNP), and also with Hitachi Medical Corporation, we are working to be the first in the world to apply NIRS examination as an auxiliary means of diagnosis for psychiatric disorders.

We carried out a major multicenter study to investigate the accuracy of NIRS examination at the individual level (Takizawa et al., Neuroimage, 2014). We attempted to differentiate three mental illnesses (depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) that all have depressive symptoms in common. In seven facilities, the same NIRS examination of brain function was carried out of individuals engaged in the same simple verbal fluency test. Comparing this data with clinical diagnoses, we were able to accurately distinguish major depression in 74.6% of cases and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in 85.5% of cases at all seven facilities. This result indicates the potential for the development of biomarkers in the field of psychiatry, with potential applications in diagnosis, treatment, evaluation of therapeutic effect, prediction of prognosis, and as a tool for screening.

Recent Publications
Also see CV of Kiyoto Kasai, M.D., Ph.D., Department Chair

  • (1) Okada N et al: Abnormal asymmetries in subcortical brain volume in schizophrenia. Mol Psychiatry 2016 Jan 19. [Epub ahead of print]
  • (2) Yahata N et al: A small number of abnormal brain connections predicts adult autism spectrum disorder. Nat Commun, in press.
  • (3) Tada M et al: Differential alterations of auditory gamma oscillatory responses between pre-onset high-risk individuals and first-episode schizophrenia. Cereb Cortex 26: 1027-35, 2016.
  • (4) Ishii-Takahashi A et al: Neuroimaging-aided prediction of the effect of methylphenidate in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Neuropsychopharmacology 40: 2676-2685, 2015.
  • (5) Okano H, Miyawaki A, Kasai K: Brain/MINDS: brain-mapping project in Japan. Phil Trans R Soc B 370: 20140310, 2015. (review)
  • (6) Kasai K et al: The future of real-world neuroscience: imaging techniques to assess active brains in social environments. Neurosci Res 90: 65-71, 2015. (review)
  • (7) Nagai T et al: Mismatch negativity as a “translatable” brain marker d early intervention for psychosis: a review. Front Psychiatry 4: 1-10, 2013. (review)
  • (8) Kasai K: Toward an interdisciplinary science of adolescence: insights from schizophrenia research. Neurosci Res 75: 89-93, 2013. (review)