(Vienna, 19 June 2018) Ana Weidenauer from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital has been awarded the Theodor Körner promotion prize in the category of medicine, natural sciences and technology. This prize for promoting young researchers will support a study into the role of dopamine in the development of addictions.
Ana Weidenauer, junior doctor at the Division of General Psychiatry, is working on the study: "Modelling dopamine dysfunction in early addiction and psychosis: a double-tracer positron-emission tomography study of sensitization".
Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for movement, motivation and reward as well as for perception and thinking. Hitherto, several studies using Positron Emission Tomography have shown that patients suffering from an addiction or from schizophrenia exhibit a variance in dopamine metabolism. A modified number of dopamine receptors were found in patients with an addictive disorder, while patients with schizophrenia are characterised by greater dopamine synthesis, dopamine release and behavioural response to stress and to dopamine-releasing substances, such as amphetamines. The latter phenomenon is known as sensitisation, which is the opposite of tolerance and can be triggered by repeated administration of amphetamine in an animal model and in healthy volunteers. It is presumed that natural sensitisation is present in schizophrenia, since a stronger response can be observed in this patient population, even in the absence of prior exposure to amphetamines. It was also muted that sensitisation is relevant as a learning phenomenon for the initial stage of addiction.
Although it has often been confirmed that patients with schizophrenia exhibit higher dopamine synthesis and dopamine release, the interaction between the two had never previously been investigated. For the first time, Ana Weidenauer and her colleagues are therefore planning to study dopamine synthesis using the dopamine precursor radioligand [18F]FDOPA and dopamine release using the D2/3 receptor radioligand [11C]-(+)-PHNO in health volunteers before and after repeated amphetamine administration and to map the change in brain structure and reward networks by means of magnetic resonance imaging.
Investigation of these relationships will significantly broaden our basic understanding of the dopamine system, its sensitisation and subsequently increase our knowledge about the neurobiology of schizophrenia and addiction development.
Theodor Körner promotion prizes
The Theodor Körner Fund promotes young Austrian scientists and artists already doing excellent work and who are expected to make further important contributions in their respective disciplines. The prize is intended to benefit predominantly young scientists and artists who are not yet established. Candidates must be no more than 40 years of age at the time of application.
The award is associated with prize-money. The promotion prize is intended to encourage the realisation and completion of scientific or artistic projects. The submitted projects are judged by an advisory panel. The submitted work should be uncompleted. The crucial selection factors are general scientific/artistic quality and social relevance. The work must be completed within two years of receipt of the prize.
About Ana Weidenauer
Even while still a student at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ana Weidenauer worked in the psychosis research group under the supervision of Matthäus Willeit from 2013 and completed her course in human medicine at MedUni Vienna in 2013. She then started a PhD on the "Clinical Neuroscience" programme at MedUni Vienna. Since 2015, she has been pursuing her specialist training in psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Division of General Psychiatry and is working on several research projects on the subject of psychosis.