Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology


Senior Lecturer

5 West - 2.40


Tel: +44 (0) 1225 386842 


Dr Sarah Bailey 


Depression is estimated to affect 1 in 6 UK adults at any one time. Vulnerability to depression and anxiety is thought to arise from the influence of multiple genes acting together with environmental factors. However, the molecular basis of these diseases is not well understood. Depression and anxiety are complex behaviours involving multiple brain regions and as such can only be studied in a whole behaving organism. In my laboratory we use a combination of behavioural, electrophysiological and molecular techniques to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in anxiety and depression. The behavioural tasks used are non-invasive and use the innate behaviour of mice to assess novelty-induced changes in exploratory behaviour. Current research focuses on three inter-related aspects of depression.

Kappa opioid receptors

Dynorphin is a neuropeptide, that acts at kappa opioid receptors (KOR), and has been implicated in drug addiction and depression. Both prodynorphin, the precursor for a number of dynorphin peptides, and KOR expression is high in brain regions involved in emotional control and stress responses. KOR agonists produce dysphoric responses in humans and aversive responses in rodents. KOR antagonists on the other hand have potential utility as antidepressants and anxiolytics. In collaboration with Prof Husband’s group, we are examining the role of KOR in stress-responsiveness and developing novel KOR ligands.

Stress and adolescent depression

Major depression in adolescent populations is increasingly common. Stress is a major precipitating factor in depression and we have been investigating differences in stress-responsiveness in adult and juvenile animals. The hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) has been found to be hyperactive in many adult depressed patients, but the absence of hypercortisolaemia is a defining feature of adolescent depression and suggests that HPA hyperactivity does not play a key role in its aetiology. These observations suggest that the molecular substrates underlying depression in adolescents are quite different to adults (funded by the Medical Research Council).

Neuroinflammation and depression

Following a bacterial or viral infection, people experience changes in mood, appetite and interest in their environment that resemble depression. These symptoms are mediated by chemicals called cytokines that initiate inflammation as part of the body’s normal response to infection. In animal studies, exposure to an inflammatory challenge causes a systemic inflammation but also neuroinflammation, characterized by activated brain microglial cells that release cytokines. This has led to the idea that cytokines can trigger major depression. We are investigating the role of the inflammasome – a protein complex required for cytokine activation – in the brain, in response to inflammatory challenge using a combination of biochemical measures and animal studies (funded by Medical Research Council Industrial CASE PhD studentship with Janssen Pharmaceutica).

More information on neuroscience research at the University of Bath.

Further information on "The Art of the Brain" a sci-art collaborative public engagement project.


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