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Research groups

Heather MacKay


DPhil Student

My PhD project aims to determine whether or not drugs used to treat anxiety and depression in pregnant women impact on fetal brain development. My research largely focuses on the commonly prescribed class of drug termed selective serotonin (5-HT) reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which evidence suggests have high potential for neurodevelopmental harm to the fetus following treatment during pregnancy. This observation signals an urgent need to discover more about the impact of early life exposure to SSRIs on neural circuit formation and function.

To investigate this, I am employing numerous advanced genetic and physiological techniques to bridge the cellular-to-systems gap and provide comprehensive insight into the impact of SSRIs on early brain circuits and cognition. More specifically I am investigating the development of the endogenous 5-HT circuitry during highly dynamic stages of cortical development, and  assessing the impact of in utero exposure to SSRIs on these patterns of microcircuit development in vitro and in vivo.

The outcome of my DPhil project will aid in our understanding of the impact of SSRIs – inform current clinical practice – and enable better detection and management of developmental psychiatric disorders.