pt en

Prata, Diana

Neurobiologia e Cognição Humana

Our interest is the molecular biology of human behaviour, which we aim to translate into improving etiological and therapeutic models of neuropsychiatric disorders. We have reported on the influence of genetic variations on: mental illness risk, brain function/structure and drug treatment response.

We are dedicated to: 1) understanding the role of oxytocin in social cognition, and its relevance to psychosis, autism and anorexia nervosa; and 2) building clinically useful multimodal biomarkers for aiding clinical diagnostic and prognostic predictions. For this, we combine psychological and neuropharmacological experimentation with (epi)genetics, neuroimaging and psychophysiological tools – which is made possible by a diverse team of biophysics engineers, psychologists, biologists and medical doctors.

  • Áreas de Investigação

    • Neuroimaging genetics
    • Genetic association
    • Neuroimaging
    • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
    • Functional Ressonance Imaging
    • Electroencephalography
    • Pupilometry
    • Eye-tracking
    • Psychophysiology
    • Skin conductance response
    • Psychiatry
    • Social cognition
    • Empathy
    • Theory of Mind
    • Schizophrenia
    • Anorexia Nervosa
    • Verbal Fluency
    • Gene x Environment interaction
    • Neuropharmacology
    • Pharmacogenetics
    • Oxytocin
    • Dopamine
  • Equipa de Investigação

    • Projectos de Investigação em Curso

      If you would like to do research (e.g. as MSc, PhD student or Post-Doc) in the context of one of the 3 projects streams below, and have a degree in biomedical engineering, statistics, computational modeling/bioinformatics, medicine, biology, psychology, or related fields, email


      Project Stream 1. The Neurobiology of Social Cognition.

      Keywords. Oxytocin, genetics, neuropharmacology, neuroimaging, cognitive empathy, theory-of-mind, trust, cooperation, reward, reinforcement learning, mirror neurons, emotion recognition, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia.

      Context. Understanding the neurochemistry and circuitry mediating social cognition is key to treat a large range of neuropsychiatric disorders – as social deficits are often present at their origin and often do not subside with treatment. Working out what others think, intend and feel (i.e. cognitive empathy or theory-of-mind) is essential for optimal communication and cooperation and is dysfunctional in schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, drug addiction, anorexia nervosa, and autism, among others. We are characterizing what molecules and brain pathways are involved in social cognition, for example: how does oxytocin promote cognitive empathy? Where does it act? What effect does it have in brain and sympathetic function? 

      Tools. We  study healthy humans and patients with structural and functional neuroimaging (MRI, DTI and MRS), double blind placebo-controlled pharmacological and TMS administration, psychological testing, social cognition tasks, eye-tracking, pupilometry, skin conductance, EEG, DNA testing and computational modelling. We use mainly MATLAB, SPSS, and other more specific quantitative data analysis and task presentation software.

      Collaborations. King’s College London (UK), Emory University (USA), IST (Portugal), ISCTE (Portugal), FPUL (Portugal), Champalimaud Neuroscience (Portugal), ISPA (Portugal), and The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (The Netherlands).

      Project Stream 2. Multimodal biomarkers to predict the onset and prognosis of neuropsychiatric illnesses.

      Keywords. Genetics, neuroimaging, environment, clinical biomarkers, schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.

      Context. Psychiatry and, to a lesser extent, neurology are still fields of medicine that take very little advantage of quantitative, biological and objective measurements – with a lot of trial-and-error and one-size-fits-all therapeutics. This may be why diagnosis, prediction of prognosis and response to treatment are relatively inaccurate, late and expensive. For example, about a third of Alzheimer’s cases go on mis- or under-diagnosed; it is still undetected which one third of people with at-risk symptoms for schizophrenia go on to develop this chronic illness, and about one quarter of schizophrenia patients do not respond to their first line of treatment. Can we capitalize on the existing information in brain scans and other quantitative measurements to assist clinicians in deciding on patients’ diagnosis or prognosis, earlier and more accurately than currently – so that the correct treatment can start as soon as possible?

      Tools. We are developing pattern recognition algorithms that can statistically predict the level of personalized risk of each new patient. To train these algorithms, we use pre-existing samples (free online or our own) containing neuroimaging and also genetic, psychological, environmental and clinical data. We use mainly MATLAB and machine learning tools.

      Collaborations. King’s College London (UK), IBEB-FCUL (Portugal), Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands), University College London (UK).

      Project Stream 3. Genetic underpinnings of human brain function and structure.

      Keywords. Genetics, neuroimaging, environment, verbal fluency, white matter, grey matter, brain connectivity, dopamine synthesis, fMRI, sMRI, DTI, PET, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, polygenic risk scores, GWAs.

      Context. Several aspects of brain function and structure are known to be highly heritable but little is known about what specific genes contribute to them. For example, while specific genetic variations have been associated with cognitive abilities and susceptibility to many psychiatric illnesses, we still do not know how they operate or increase risk. How do genetic variations modulate executive function such as verbal fluency and risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia? We will investigate their impact directly on brain activation, anatomy and dopamine synthesis.

      Tools. We  use an existing database of controls and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia patients, in whom MRI data (functional and structural MRI, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging –DTI) and genotyping (including genome-wide GWA) human data has been collected, to correlate genetic with neuroimaging measurements in healthy humans, and patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. We mainly use MATLAB, SPM, FSL, free surfer and MIBCA software.

      Collaborations. King’s College London (UK) and Oxford University Hospitals (UK).

    • Prémios

      • 2017 - 2021 PhD Fellowship to team (Dr Duarte Ferreira) national-level, national peer-review.
      • 2017 - 2021 PhD Fellowship to team (Dr Alessia Avila) national-level, national peer-review.
      • 2017 - 2021 Post-Doc Fellowship to team (Dr Gonçalo Oliveira) national-level, national peer-review.
      • 2017 - 2018  Caixa Capital Award (€100.000) to spin-off Startup NeuroPsyCAD
      • 2016 - 2018  Bial Psychophysiology grant, Bial Foundation (€50.000); international-level, international peer-review.





      • 2016 – 2018 AstraZeneca/FMUL grant to team (Dr. Daniel Martins) (€5.000), AstraZeneca/FMUL –faculty-level, international peer-review.
      • 2016 ‘InovPortugal New Ideas B2B’ award to Startup idea (7 awardees among >13000 competitors), Acredita Portugal, Portugal
      • 2016-2019 Twinning Grant (€1.000.000) to European Consortium (DP as a member)H2020-TWINN-2015, 692340, by European Commission.
      • 2016 – 2017 Breakthrough Idea Grant (€100.000), Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Portugal –institute-level, international peer-review.
      • 2016 – 2020 PhD Fellowship
 to team (Dr. Vânia Tavares) by M2B Doctoral Programme (2016-2020), FCT, Portugal – institutional level, institutional peer-review.
      • 2016 – 2020 PhD Fellowship
 to team (Dr. Sandro Nunes) SFRH/BD/112401/2015 (2016-2020), FCT, Portugal – national level, national peer-review.
      • 2016 – 2020 PhD Fellowship
 to team (Dr. Daniel Martins) by LisbonBiomed Doctoral Programme (2016-2020), FCT, Portugal –institutional level, institutional peer-review.
      • 2015 – 2020 FCT Investigator Starting Contract to PI IF/00787/2014, FCT, Portugal – national level, international peer-review.
      • 2015-2020 FCT Exploratory Grant (€50.000) to PI, IF/00787/2014, FCT, Portugal.– national level, international peer-review.
      • 2015 – 2019 EU Marie Curie Career Integration Grant to PI (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-CIG) (€100.000), international-level and peer-review.
      • 2015 – 2016 Start-up Grant to PI (€30.000), Institute of Molecular Medicine, Portugal – institute-level, no peer review.
      • 2013 – 2014 Academic Advancement Promotion to PI (grade 6-7 salary increase), KCL, UK, institute-level, institute peer-review.
      • 2011 – 2014 Postdoctoral Fellowship to PI PDF-2010-03-047+£280,396+£49.920 grant, NIHR, UK, national-level and international peer-review.
      • 2011 Brain travel award to PI (£500), Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UK– national-level and peer review.
      • 2010 Harvard Medical School Travel award to PI ($1000), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), USA – international-level and peer review.
      • 2009 Brain travel award to PI (£416), Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UK– national-level and peer review.
      • 2008 Travel stipend to PI (£4000), University of Sichuan, China – institute-level, no peer-review.
      • 2006 – 2008 7 Travel stipends to PI (total £3,907), Psychological Medicine, IoP, KCL, UK – institute-level, no peer-review.
      • 2004 – 2008 PhD Fellowship to PI (SFRH/BD/12394/2003) (€133,080+€51,000), FCT, Portugal – national-level and peer-review.
      • 2003 Junior Investigator Travel fellowship to PI ($1,250), Academy for Eating Disorders, USA – international-level and peer-review.
      • 2002 – 2003 Leonardo Da Vinci fellowship to PI(£4,500), European Comission – university-level, no peer-review.
      • 2001 – 2002 Erasmus fellowship to PI (€2.700), European Comission – university-level, no peer-review.
    • Publicações Seleccionadas

      PI’s Google Scholar profile, ScopusID: 14632352500, OrcidID 0000-0002-4051-022X, ResearcherID H-4397-2011, ResearchGate profile.

      PI’s Internationally peer-reviewed and Pubmed-indexed N(published)=36, Citations N=1023, H-index =18

      • Mallas E; Carletti F; Chaddock C; Shergill S; Woolley J; Picchioni M; McDonald C; Toulopoulou T; Kravariti E; Bramon E; Murray R; Barker G; Prata D. The impact of CACNA1C gene, and its epistasis with ZNF804A, on white matter microstructure in health, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Genes, Brain and BehaviourIn press.

      • Martins D, Paloyelis Y, Prata D. “Shedding light on a dark question”: Peripheral oxytocin signalling and neurobehavioral responses to intranasal oxytocin in humans. Psychoneuroendocrinology. In press. IF:4.7

      • Vassos E, Di Forti M, Coleman J, Iyegbe C, Prata D, Euesden J, O’Reilly P, Curtis C, Kolliakou A Patel H, Newhouse S, Traylor M, Ajnakina O; Mondelli V, Reis-Marques T, Gardner-Sood P, Aitchison K, Powell J, Atakan Z, Greenwood K, Smith S, Ismail K, Pariante C, Gaughran F, Dazzan P, Markus H; David A; Lewis C; Murray R, Breen G. An examination of polygenic score risk prediction in individuals with first episode psychosis. Biological Psychiatry. Priority Communication. In press. IF:10.2

      Book Chapters

      • Martins D & Prata D. A depressão está nos genes? Uma apreciação das bases genéticas e moleculares da depressão major. In A promoção da saúde mental e a prevenção da depressão e suicídio: foco estratégico na integração da saúde mental nos cuidados de saúde primários. EUTIMIA. Lisboa. In press.
      • Martins D & Prata D. A suicidalidade está nos genes? Uma visão geral das bases genéticas e moleculares da suicidalidade. In A promoção da saúde mental e a prevenção da depressão e suicídio: foco estratégico na integração da saúde mental nos cuidados de saúde primários. EUTIMIA. Lisboa. In press.
      • Martins D & Prata D. Um cérebro deprimido? Alterações neuroimagiológicas na depressão major. In A promoção da saúde mental e a prevenção da depressão e suicídio: foco estratégico na integração da saúde mental nos cuidados de saúde primários. EUTIMIA. Lisboa. In press.
      • E-Research Methods Working Group. E-Research Methods (online material). 2014. King’s College London. UK.
      • Prata DP2014Biological basis of schizophrenia. In II Congresso de Reabilitação e Inclusão na Saúde Mental (Congress on rehabilitation and inclusion in Mental Health). University of Coimbra, Portugal.
      • Prata DP. 2014Biological basis of cognition in schizophrenia. In II Congresso de Reabilitação e Inclusão na Saúde Mental(Congress on rehabilitation and inclusion in Mental Health). University of Coimbra, Portugal.


      • Prata DP. 2008. Effect of Dopamine Regulating Genes on Regional Brain Function during Verbal Fluency in Controls and in Patients with Schizophrenia. PhD Thesis. King’s College London. UK.

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