Immune Response & Social Cognition in Schizophrenia (iRELATE)

iRelate Header

iRELATE is a European Research Council funded project examining the impact of genes, early life experiences and the immune system on the brain.  There is growing evidence of an important contribution of each of these factors towards risk for schizophrenia and other mental health problems.


The iRELATE team from NUI Galway School of Psychology and the Wellcome Trust - HRB Clinical Research Facility St James Hospital were delighted to contribute to the RTÉ documentary "Schizophrenia: The Voices in My Head" which aired on RTÉ 2, September 19th. In this documentary young people speak about what it's like to live with such a severe mental health disorder, and struggle with delusional thoughts and the internal voices that are so associated with schizophrenia.

The documentary is now available to watch on the RTE player.



There is evidence to suggest that certain aspects of our environment and genetic make-up influence how we think and feel. These aspects may cause differences in the parts of our brains that control thoughts and feelings. In this study we are interested in looking at how a person’s environment and genes influence their brain. A particular focus of the research is on examining whether these effects are related to changes in our immune system – the system that helps us identify infections such as viruses and mount a response. The two questions we want to address in this research are:

(1) Does the effect of genes that are already known to increase illness risk occur because of changes in our immune system?

(2) Does our early social environment (e.g. our childhood relationships) modify this relationship?

To address these questions, iRELATE uses a combination of state of the art neuroimaging, cognitive testing and molecular and genetic techniques to examine differences in genes and immune function across research participants, and how these may affect the brain. Research is carried out across two sites:

Volunteers needed!

The iRELATE project is currently recruiting research volunteers.  Volunteering consists of two assessment visits. The first visit will involve cognitive assessment, taking about 2.5 hours. The second visit will include an MRI scan, which will last around 2 hours. The first visit will take place at a clinical centre that is in your town (depending on where you live) and the MRI scan in the second visit will take place at the MRI facility located in St James Hospital, Dublin. To volunteer for iRELATE, please e-mail:

For more information on volunteering for the iRELATE Project, please read our Recruitment Poster and Letter of Information:

iRelate Poster

iRelate Letter of Information for Healthy Participants

iRELATE personnel

Prof. Gary Donohoe - Professor & Established Chair of Psychology, NUI Galway

Prinicipal Investigator, iRELATE

iRelate GaryGary was appointed to the school of psychology as Professor of psychology in July 2013. Following the completion of his Doctoral training in Clinical Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, Gary undertook a research fellowship in the TCD neuropsychiatric genetics research, where he earned a PhD in Cognitive Genomics and began the cognitive genomics lab. He was appointed an assistant professor in TCD’s school of medicine in 2006, and associate professor in 2009, where he was responsible for the school of medicine psychology program until 2013. Gary’s research focuses on understanding the genetic and neural basis of cognitive deficits associated with psychosis, and the development of therapeutic programs for overcoming these deficits. Gary continues to lead the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group, members of which are based between the school of psychology NUIG and TCD, where he holds the position of adjunct Professor in the school of medicine and principal investigator in the Trinity College Institute for Neuroscience. Gary also continues to be clinically active in mental health service delivery.

Prof. Colm McDonald - Professor of Psychiatry, NUI Galway

iRelate ColmColm McDonald is Professor of Psychiatry at National University of Ireland, Galway and Consultant Psychiatrist, West Galway Mental Health Services. He also holds the post of visiting Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. He completed his basic clinical training in Dublin and then moved to the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where he completed his clinical and research training and received his PhD.

He took up his professorial post in 2005 and has developed a clinical research program which focuses on investigating neurobiological and neuroimaging abnormalities associated with major psychotic and affective disorders. He is Director of the Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory at NUI Galway. His research projects have been supported by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Health Research Board, Royal Society, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, Mental Health Commission. He has authored over 150 original articles published in peer reviewed journals.

Dr. Derek Morris - Lecturer in Biochemistry, NUI Galway

iRelate DerekDerek Morris graduated with a B.Sc. in Biotechnology from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 1998. In 2001, he completed his PhD in molecular genetics at the Department of Psychological Medicine, Cardiff University. He subsequently joined the Neuropsychiatric Genetics Research Group in TCD as a research fellow and was awarded a HRB Postdoctoral Career Development Research Fellowship in 2003. In 2006, Dr. Morris was appointed Lecturer in Molecular Psychiatry within the Dept. of Psychiatry in TCD and in 2013 moved to NUI Galway where he is now Lecturer in Biomedical Science.

Dr. Morris’ research interests are the development of novel methods for mapping genes for complex diseases and the application of high-throughput genomics technologies to the detection of risk genes for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has extensive experience of genome-wide association studies and using SFI funding, set up TrinSeq, the first next-generation sequencing lab in Ireland in 2008. He is currently President of the Irish Society of Human Genetics. His contribution to the Cognitive Genetics Group is study design and the management of biosample resources and genetics data used for ongoing studies.

Prof. John Kelly - Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, NUI Galway

iRelate JohnCurrent areas of research include the mechanisms of action of antidepressants using preclinical models, developing alternatives to laboratory animals for acute toxicity assessment, and the effects of exposure to antidepressants and amphetamines in preclinical models of development. This research has resulted in over 100 peer-reviewed publications.  Research links have been established with other national and international centres, both within academic and industrial spheres. This research has been recognised by the awarding of a D.Sc. (published work) in 2012 by the National University of Ireland. These research activities have been funded from a variety of competitive sources, including the Programme for Third Level Institutions, the Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland, the Wellcome Trust, the Irish Research Council and the NUI, Galway Millennium Grant Scheme.

Dr. Declan McKernan – Lecturer in Pharmacology & Therapeutics, NUI Galway

iRelate DeclanDeclan McKernan is currently a lecturer in the discipline of Pharmacology & Therapeutics and is Course Director for the Msc in Neuropharmacology at NUIG. Declan graduated from the University of Limerick with a BSc in Industrial Biochemistry and a PhD in Biochemistry from University College, Cork. Declan then worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre at UCC before beginning at NUIG in 2011. Declan’s research interests include understanding the regulation of innate immune responses in the gut and the brain with particular focus on neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses.


Dr. David Mothersill – Lecturer in Clinical Neuroscience, NUI Galway

iRelate OmarDavid Mothersill graduated from Trinity College in 2014 with a PhD in Neuroimaging Genetics.  Following this, he worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on an SFI funded project examining social cognition in schizophrenia, based in Trinity College and NUI Galway. David started his lectureship in NUI Galway in August 2016, and acts as course coordinator on the newly launched MSc in Clinical Neuroscience. David's research is concerned with cognitive function in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, how this can be examined at the level of the brain using neuroimaging, and how deficits in cognitive function may be treated. David previously graduated from Trinity College with a BA (Hons) in Zoology and MSc in Neuroscience. He is also a registered member of the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM).

Dr. Maria Dauvermann – Postdoctoral Research Fellow and iRELATE Project Lead

iRelate MariaDr. Maria Dauvermann is a postdoctoral researcher in the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group, National University of Ireland in Galway. Maria received her PhD in Psychiatry and Neuroimaging from the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in 2014. Following the PhD, Maria undertook postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, until June 2016. 

Maria’s research interests focus on the investigation of acute and chronic stress and the implication of stress in the aetiology and continuation of major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic disorder. Maria studies the impact of acute and chronic stress on functions of the brain and its relationship with clinical symptoms and cognitive deficits that may affect individuals in daily life by using in-vivo neuroimaging techniques, including functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. In addition, she uses translational psychiatry in order to increase the translational potential between human and rodent research.

Dr. Laurena Holleran – Postdoctoral Research Fellow and iRELATE Project Manager

iRelate LaurenaDr. Laurena Holleran is a postdoctoral researcher in the Cognitive Genetics and Cognitive Therapy (CogGene) group, National University of Ireland in Galway and Project Manager of the iRELATE study. Laurena received her PhD in Neuroimaging from NUIG in 2015, after completing a BSc in Anatomy, and MSc in Neuropharmacology. Following her PhD, Laurena spent 2 years as a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Medicine, Washington University St. Louis, Missouri, USA, focusing on advanced diffusion MRI acquisition and analysis.

Dr. Lieve Desbonnet - iRelate Postdoctoral Researcher

Lieve DesbonnetLieve is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the iRELATE group, in the National University of Ireland in Galway (NUIG). Before this she worked as a lecturer in Neuroscience in the University of Glasgow for 4 years. Lieve received her PhD in Neuroscience from University College Cork in 2007, after completing a BSc in Anatomy, and MSc in Neuropharmacology in NUIG. Following her PhD, Lieve spent 4 years as a postdoctoral researcher in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) working on gene-environment models of schizophrenia, and a further 2 years as a senior postdoctoral researcher focusing on the role of the gut microbiota in neurodevelopment and behaviour.



Caroline Cullen – iRELATE Research Nurse (Dublin site)

 iRelate CarolineCaroline Cullen joined Wellcome Trust HRB Clinical Research Facility (CRF), St. James’s Hospital, in April, 2016 as a Clinical Research Nurse working mainly in mental health research. Caroline completed her training qualifying with honours B.Sc. (Cur) in Nursing at Trinity College Dublin. After qualifying in 2009, Caroline worked in Acute Mental Health and Psychiatry of later life at St. Vincent’s University Hospital (2009-2011). Prior to coming to the CRF, Caroline worked as a Research Nurse (2014-16) on The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), carrying out comprehensive health assessments on participants for WAVE 3. Caroline also has experience as a primary care/community nurse in the Drug Addiction Services. In this role she gained enormous experience in physical and mental health, was responsible for conducting health assessments, the therapeutic care and case management of clients attending the service. Whilst in this role Caroline completed her Masters in Mental Health at Trinity College Dublin graduating in 2013 with distinction. Caroline has a keen interest in the role of physical activity in physical and mental health and its benefits in recovery and quality of life.  She published her research study in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in December 2014 entitled; Exploring the role of physical activity for people with serious mental illness in Ireland,

Caroline is delighted to be part of the iRELATE study which is investigating immune response and social cognition in Schizophrenia.

Jessica Holland – Government of Ireland Irish Research Council PhD student

 iRelate JessicaJessica graduated with a BSc. (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Limerick in 2014. Following this, she completed a MSc. in Neuropsychology, awarded by University of Maastricht in 2015. Jessica's PhD project centers on genetic risk factors for psychosis and brain activity related to social cognition, and particular genetic risk factors for schizophrenia related to immune health.



Karolina Rokita – iRELATE PhD student

 iRelate KarolinaKarolina graduated with a MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience from Aston University (UK) in 2014. Following this, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Coventry University on a collaborative project with University of Oxford, investigating the neural and cognitive bases of supernatural beliefs using brain stimulation (tDCS). Karolina’s main research interests are in cognition, neurolinguistics and mental disorders. Her doctoral training is supported by the Hardiman Research Scholarship and focuses on neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies of social cognition in Schizophrenia.


Akhil Konkoth – iRelate Research assistant

Akhil KonkothAkhil was awarded a BSc in nursing, NITTE University and an MSc in medical Physiology from SRM University India, and hold a master’s degree in Clinical Neuroscience from the National University of Ireland. After graduation in Clinical Neuroscience, he worked as a research assistant in REMEDI, NUIG. He currently working as a research assistant in the iRELATE project investigating immune response in Schizophrenia. His research interests and experiences include Neuroinflammation, immunology, developing exosome based immunomodulatory particles, mesenchymal stem cells, and regenerative medicine.


Ruan Kane – iRelate Research assistant

Ruan KeaneRuán is a research assistant with the Dublin branch of the iRelate study, based in St James’ Hospital. Prior to that he completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology and MSc in Clinical Neuroscience, at NUI Galway. His research interests include working memory and how it underlies key deficits in schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.