Thomas leads brain study

31 March 2008

Dr Kevin Thomas, along with collaborators in the Cross-University Brain Behaviour Initiative, is conducting a study on the effects of buprenorphine, a medication with morphine-like action on the body, on social-emotional sensitivity in people with a history of psychological trauma.

The research, to be completed at the end of the year, investigates the effects that buprenorphine has on emotional experience, social behaviour and - looking at the brain - on neural circuits in participants who have suffered childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, neglect or maltreatment.

Buprenorphine, an opioid agent, is traditionally used as a painkiller, but is also used, increasingly, to treat heroin addiction.

Thomas' project is one of the first to run on the state-of-the-art 3T fMRI brain scanner at the Cape Universities Brain Imaging Centre.

The first findings are encouraging, says Thomas, based in the Department of Psychology and a member of UCT' s Brain and Behaviour Initiative.

The small initial sample shows consistent differences in emotional processing between those on and off the buprenorphine medication, with those taking the medication being less reactive to emotional stimuli, such as angry faces.

Thomas is conducting the study with a multidisciplinary team, including researchers from UCT and Stellenbosch University, Utrecht University in the Netherlands and from Washington State University in the United States.

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