Behavioural Neuroscience

The behavioural neuroscience laboratory are working to find better treatments for severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder. Psychiatric disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental disturbances or ‘risk-factors’. Our laboratory models these risk factors in mice to understand at the molecular, physiological and behavioural level how these disturbances contribute to mental health. We use a number of different techniques, including genetic manipulation, mouse behavioural testing, in vivo electrophysiology, molecular biology, histology, and cell culture.

Our goal is to dissect the functional role of genetic and environmental risk factors that are strongly associated with schizophrenia. Through this preclinical work, novel therapeutic targets may be identified. In collaboration with division head and clinician Prof. Sundram, our novel therapeutic targets may then be trialled in patients. Indeed, we are currently initiating two phase 1B clinical trials of novel compounds identified through rigorous preclinical screening. Our team of talented and enthusiastic neuroscientists including post-doctoral fellows, PhD students and Honours students work as a collaborative unit with clinical psychiatrists to achieve our aim of finding effective treatments for psychiatric disorders.  

Find out more:

Dr Rachel Hill is a NHMRC Career Development Fellow and head of the Behavioural Neuroscience laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Monash Medical Center. She currently holds competitive grants from the Australian government and US foundations, and supervises a team of post-doctorates, PhD students and honours students from Monash University.

Collaborators

International collaborators

  1. Professor Kazutaka Ikeda, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science
  2. Professor KeQiang Ye, Emory University
  3. Professor Allen Herbison, University of Otago, New Zealand
  4. Professor Adrianna Maggi, University of Milan, Italy

National collaborators

  1. Professor Suresh Sundram, Head, Adult Psychiatry, Monash Medical Centre
  2. Dr Patrick Western, Hudson Institute
  3. Prof. Jayashri Kulkarni, Monash Alfred Psychiatric Research Institute
  4. Dr Quanten Schwarz, University of South Australia
  5. Professor Maarten van den Buuse, La Trobe University
  6. Associate Professor Coral Warr, Head, Coral Warr Research Group, Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Science
  7. Dr Travis Johnson, ARC DECRA Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University

Selected recent publications

  1. Prefrontal cortical parvalbumin and somatostatin expression and cell density increase during adolescence and are modified by BDNF and sex. Du X, Serena K, Hwang W, Grech AM, Wu YWC, Schroeder A, Hill RA. Mol Cell Neurosci. 2018 Feb 3;88:177-188. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2018.02.001
  2. The BDNF Val66Met polymorphism regulates glucocorticoid-induced corticohippocampal remodeling and behavioral despair. Notaras M, Du X, Gogos J, van den Buuse M, Hill RA. Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Sep 19;7(9):e1233. doi: 10.1038/tp.2017.205.
  3. Estradiol and raloxifene modulate hippocampal gamma oscillations during a spatial memory task. Schroeder A, Hudson M, Du X, Wu YWC, Nakamura J, van den Buuse M, Jones NC, Hill RA. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 Apr;78:85-92. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.01.022. Epub 2017 Jan 23.
  4. Dissecting a Genomic Role of BDNF in Schizophrenia and Psychosis. Notaras M, Hill RA, van den Buuse M. J Clin Psychiatry. 2016 Aug;77(8):e1029-31. doi: 10.4088/JCP.15com10536.
  5. The Potential of Gonadal Hormone Signalling Pathways as Therapeutics for Dementia. Du X, Hill RA. J Mol Neurosci. 2016 Nov;60(3):336-348. Epub 2016 Aug 15.
  6. BDNF Val66Met Genotype Interacts With a History of Simulated Stress Exposure to Regulate Sensorimotor Gating and Startle Reactivity. Notaras MJ, Hill RA, Gogos JA, van den Buuse M. chizophr Bull. 2017 May 1;43(3):665-672. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbw077.
  7. Sex differences in animal models of schizophrenia shed light on the underlying pathophysiology. Hill RA. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Aug;67:41-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.10.014. Epub 2015 Dec 29.

Clinical trials

  • Phase 1B clinical trial on the efficacy of R13 on cognitive ability (still in developmental stages). Collaboration with Prof. Ye and Prof. Sundram
  • Phase 1B clinical trial to test the efficacy of bazedoxifene in postmenopausal women with schizophrenia (still in development). Collaboration with Prof. Kulkarni

Current projects

  1. Using single-nuclei RNA-Sequencing to uncover novel candidate genes and/or signalling pathways that are altered in people with schizophrenia.
  2. Using genetically manipulated drosophila to understand the function of novel genes associated with schizophrenia    
  3. Characterizing the behavioural phenotype of betacellulin knockout mice – a promising new candidate gene associated with schizophrenia
  4. Using genetic models to understand how estradiol improves cognitive function
  5. Investigating preventative maternal dietary supplements to combat the deleterious effects of prenatal exposure to infection on brain development and behaviour

Grant Success

Dr Hill has been in the fields of Neuroscience and Psychiatry for 8 years and has received over $2 million in funding from both National and International funding bodies.

  • 2018: Monash University Advancing Women in Research grant ($11,000)
  • 2018: Philanthropic Equipment grant ($40,000)
  • 2017: Monash University near miss grant ($70,000)
  • 2017: Monash University Interdisciplinary SEED grant ($30,000)
  • 2016: Advancing women in science award ($10,000).
  • 2016: Named supervisor, NHMRC/ARC dementia fund fellowship, Dr Xin Du ($635,000).
  • 2015 – 2016: NARSAD Young investigators award ($60,000US) from the Brain Behaviour research foundation of America.
  • 2015: NHMRC Career Development Fellowship (~$400,000) which covers my salary until 2019.
  • 2013 – 2016: CIA - NHMRC project grant (#1044887, ~$432,000), ‘Understanding the interaction between sex steroid hormones and neurotrophins during adolescent development’.
  • 2013 – 2016: CIC – NHMRC project grant (#1044777, ~$452,000).
  • 2009 – 2014: NHMRC early career fellowship (total ~$250,000).
  • 2010 – 2013: CIB - NHMRC project grant (#1004129, $450,000).