Research Stream: Developmental Neurobiology

Associate Professor Darryl Eyles (BSc. Gr Dip Clin Biochem. Ph.D) is a science graduate who obtained his Ph.D. in the Department of Medicine, University of Queensland. He has been with QCMHR since its inception in 1987 and has been the recipient of a number of awards including the Forum for European-Australian Science and Technology Cooperation award. Darryl is a reviewer for more than 10 scientific journals, a reviewer for a number of international funding bodies and a NHMRC committee panel member for psychology/psychiatry project grants. He has published more than 90 scientific articles or book chapters.  Research interests include developmental animal models for schizophrenia, vitamin D neurobiology, dopamine ontogeny and the neurobiology of schizophrenia. Darryl's research broadly examines the neurobiology behind developmental environmental risk factors for serious psychiatric conditions. Primarily this has been focused on Developmental Vitamin D (DVD) deficiency but more recently has expanded into Maternal Immune Activation (MIA). In collaboration with other groups our work from these models indicates that alterations in the ontogeny of dopamine (DA) systems (both in utero and in late adolescence) may represent a convergent pathway to behavioural phenotypes of relevance to Schizophrenia and Autism.

DVD-deficiency is a risk factor for Schizophrenia

In collaboration with Prof John McGrath I established that low maternal vitamin D was a risk factor for schizophrenia in later life 1. As schizophrenia is an adult-onset disorder we needed to find a repository of aged biospecimens. We obtained access to an extensive biobank of aged blood in Denmark, however this consisted of dried blood spots. Dried blood spots presented a serious challenge to establish a robust assay for 25OHD (the major circulatory form of the vitamin). My background in analytical chemistry was central to achieving this aim. This assay is now attracting interest from researchers with interests in a variety of paediatric conditions. Indeed, I have published 20 studies examining low levels of 25OHD in newborn dried blood spots as a possible antecedent with conditions as diverse as childhood asthma, multiple sclerosis, coronary heart disease, childhood allergies etc.. Now there are discussions with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Washington to formulate blood spot standards for international accuracy comparisons for this assay. Establishing international calibrants will greatly assist in this assay being used in routine paediatric screening laboratories.

DVD-deficiency is a risk factor for Autism

More recently there have been a number of studies linking low levels of 25OHD in childhood with autism. However, many of these studies suffer from the potential issue of reverse causality, with low vitamin D in children perhaps more a consequence (diminished external activity) rather than causal. Therefore, I have engaged with paediatric researchers internationally who also have access to blood biobanks to examine this interaction. Our studies are highly suggestive that low levels of vitamin D either at birth, or during pregnancy increase the risk of such disorders. There are currently 3 additional studies in various populations that we have now submitted for publication, that indicate there is clearly a threshold effect for such risk.

Preclinical research summary
Historically I have established the molecular/cellular/brain structural/brain functional/behavioural impact of DVD-deficiency in embryonic rodents and adult offspring. This work has been well funded nationally and led to a number of invited plenary talks. One common theme that has emerged from this research and studies into other widely used developmental preclinical models is that early DA systems in embryos from maternally challenged environments may have an altered developmental trajectory. This has led to an examination of more direct manipulations of developing DA systems. Recently I have turned my attention towards modelling discrete schizophrenia-specific abnormalities in the prodromal period prior to diagnosis. We refer to this model as EDiPs, “Enhanced Dopamine in Prodromal Schizophrenia.”
Queensland Brain Institute

Queensland Brain Institute - Eyles Group

 

Visit the Eyles Group page on the University of Queensland's website.

With a particular focus on dopamine systems, the Eyles laboratory focuses on how risk factors for schizophrenia and autism, such as developmental vitamin D (DVD) deficiency and maternal immune activation, change the way the brain develops and functions.

Queensland Brain Institute

Queensland Brain Institute - Burne Group

 

Visit the Burne Group page on the University of Queensland's website.

Associate Professor Thomas Burne’s laboratory studies brain development and behaviour in animal models. The laboratory is focussed on investigating the underlying biological basis for schizophrenia, with the goal of finding public health interventions that will alleviate the burden of this disease.