Dr Karen Ersche

Karen Ersche

University position

Senior Research Associate

Dr Karen Ersche is pleased to consider applications from prospective PhD students.


Brain Mapping Unit and Department of Psychiatry


Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute



Home page

http://www.psychiatry.cam.ac.uk/addiction (personal home page)

Research Themes

Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience

Clinical and Veterinary Neuroscience


My research focuses on the neuropsychological correlates and neurochemical processes underlying addictive behaviour and the translation of this knowledge into therapeutic interventions. This work involves a combination of approaches including neuroimaging, neuropsychological testing, and pharmacological intervention. My present project investigates the question of causality, namely whether the neurobiological abnormalities seen in stimulant-dependent individuals are an effect of their long-term exposure to potentially neurotoxic drugs or whether these are the result of a genetic predisposition. I believe that a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved in drug addiction has the potential to clarify the health risks associated with drug abuse and to facilitate a more rational development of therapeutic interventions. It may also help to reduce the widespread stigma attached to people who have become dependent on drugs, thus further improving their prospects of recovery.

Research Focus


drug addiction





Clinical conditions


Substance Abuse


Behavioural analysis

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Neuropsychological testing

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Randomised control trials


No collaborators listed



Ersche KD (2014), “Paying attention to biased attention in drug addiction” CNS Spectrums in press

Ersche KD, Hagan CC, Smith DG, Abbott S, Jones PS, Apergis-Schoute AM, Döffinger R (2014), “Aberrant disgust responses and immune reactivity in cocaine-dependent men” Biological Psychiatry 75:140-147

Patel AX, Kundu P, Rubinov M, Simon Jones P, Vértes PE, Ersche KD, Suckling J, Bullmore ET (2014), “A wavelet method for modeling and despiking motion artifacts from resting-state fMRI time series.” NeuroImage in press

Smith DG, Ersche KD (2014), “Using a drug-word Stroop task to differentiate recreational from dependent drug use” CNS Spectrums in press

Smith DG, Jones PS, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2014), “Enhanced Orbitofrontal Cortex Function and Lack of Attentional Bias to Cocaine Cues in Recreational Stimulant Users” Biological Psychiatry 75:124-131


Ersche KD (2013), “Neurobiological correlates of the familial risk for stimulant drug dependence” Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews 38(1):238-9 PDF

Ersche KD (2013), “Intoxicants and Compulsive Behaviour - A Neuroscientific Perspective” In "Intoxication and Society: Problematic Pleasures of Drugs and Alcohol"; Edited by Jonathan Herring, Ciaran Regan, Darin Weinberg and Phil Withington Palgrave Macmillan

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Smith DG, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2013), “Distinctive Personality Traits and Neural Correlates Associated with Stimulant Drug Use Versus Familial Risk of Stimulant Dependence.” Biological Psychiatry 74(2):137-44 PDF

Ersche KD, Stochl J, Woodward JM, Fletcher PC (2013), “The Skinny on Cocaine: insights into eating behavior and body weight in cocaine-dependent men ” Appetite 71:75-80

Ersche KD, Williams GB, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2013), “Meta-analysis of structural brain abnormalities associated with stimulant drug dependence and neuroimaging of addiction vulnerability and resilience” Current Opinion In Neurobiology 23(4):615-24

Morein-Zamir S, Jones PS, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2013), “Prefrontal hypoactivity associated with impaired inhibition in stimulant-dependent individuals but evidence for hyperactivation in their unaffected siblings” Neuropsychopharmacology

Smith DG, Jones PS, BullmoreET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2013), “Cognitive control dysfunction and abnormal frontal cortex activation in stimulant drug users and their siblings” Translational Psychiatry

Smith DG, Jones PS, Williams GB, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2013), “Overlapping decline in orbitofrontal gray matter volume related to cocaine use and body mass index” Addiction Biology in press

Whitelock CF, Agyepong HNAO, Patterson K, Ersche KD (2013), “Signing below the dotted line: Signature position as a marker of vulnerability for visuospatial processing difficulties” Neurocase in press


Ersche KD, Cumming P, Craig KJ, Müller U, Fineberg NA, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2012), “Amisulpride-induced acute akathisia in OCD: an example of dysfunctional dopamine-serotonin interactions?” Journal of Psychopharmacology 26(6): 887 - 890 PDF

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Turton AJ, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Abnormal Brain Structure Implicated in Stimulant Drug Addiction ” Science 335:601-604 PDF

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Cocaine dependence: A fast-track for brain ageing?” Molecular Psychiatry E-pub 25 April 2012 PDF

Ersche KD, Turton AJ, Chamberlain SR, Müller U, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2012), “Cognitive dysfunction and anxious-impulsive personality traits are endophenotypes for drug dependence, ” The American Journal of Psychiatry 169: 926–936 PDF

Ersche KD, Turton, AJ, Croudace T, Stochl J (2012), “Who do you think is in control in addiction? - A pilot study on drug-related Locus of Control beliefs ” Addictive Disorders and their Treatment e-pub: 15 January 2012 PDF

Meunier D, Ersche KD, Craig KJ, Fornito A, Merlo-Pich EV, Fineberg NA, Shabbir SS, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Brain functional connectivity in stimulant drug dependence and obsessive-compulsive disorder” NeuroImage 59: 1461–1468 PDF

Robbins TW, Gillan CM, Smith DG, deWit S, Ersche KD (2012), “Neurocognitive endophenotypes of impulsivity and compulsivity: towards dimensional psychiatry” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16 (1): 81-91 PDF


Ersche KD & Robbins TW (2011), “Neurobiological correlates of drug dependence” Neurobiology of Addiction edited by Adinoff B. and Stein E. pp 9-35

Ersche KD, Barnes A, Jones SP, Morein-Zamir S, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2011), “Abnormal structure of frontostriatal brain systems is associated with aspects of impulsivity and compulsivity in cocaine dependence” Brain 134(7) 2013-24 PDF

Ersche KD, Roiser JP, Abbott S, Craig KJ,Müller U, Suckling J, Ooi C, Shabbir SS, Clark L, Sahakian BJ, Fineberg NA, Merlo-Pich EV, Robbins, TW, Bullmore ET (2011), “Response perseveration in stimulant dependence is associated with striatal dysfunction and can be ameliorated by a D2/3 receptor agonist ” Biological Psychiatry 70:754-762 PDF

Ersche KD, Roiser JP, Lucas M, Domenici E, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2011), “Peripheral biomarkers of cognitive response to dopamine receptor agonist treatment” Psychopharmacology 214: 779 - 789 PDF

Ersche, KD (2011), “The Neuropsychology of Stimulant and Opiate Dependence: Neuroimaging and Neuropsychological Studies” In: Phelps E.A., Robbins T.W. and Delgado M. Affect, Learning and Decision Making Attention and Performance XXII Oxford University Press

Gorodetzky, H, Sahakian, BJ, Robbins, TW, Ersche, KD (2011), “Different decision-making styles in stimulant-dependent and opiate-dependent individuals” Psychiatry Research 186,437-440 PDF


Ersche KD, Bullmore ET, Craig KJ, Shabbir S, Abbott S, Müller U, Ooi C, Suckling J, Barnes, A, Sahakian BJ, Merlo-Pich E, Robbins TW (2010), “Dopaminergic modulation of attentional bias in stimulant dependence is influenced by compulsivity of drug abuse” Arch Gen Psychiatry Suppl. Material PDF

Ersche KD, Turton AJ, Pradhan S, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2010), “Drug addiction endophenotypes: Impulsive versus sensation-seeking personality traits” Biological Psychiatry 68(8):770-3 PDF

Morein-Zamir S, Craig KJ, Ersche KD, Abbott S, Muller, U, Fineberg NA, Bullmore ET, Sahakian BJ, Robbins TW (2010), “Impaired visuospatial associative memory and attention in obsessive compulsive disorder but no evidence for differential dopaminergic modulation” Psychopharmacology 212(3):357-67


Meunier D, Lambiotte, R, Fornito A, Ersche KD, Bullmore ET (2009), “Hierarchical modularity in human brain functional networks” Frontiers in Neuroinformatics 3:37


DeVito EE, Blackwell AD, Kent L, Ersche KD, Clark L, Salmond C, Dezsery AM, Sahakian BJ (2008), “The Effects of Methylphenidate on Decision-Making in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ” Biological Psychiatry 64: 636 – 639.

Ersche KD, Nutt DJ (2008), “Neurocognition and social cognition in middle aged and older adult drug users: vulnerability and consequences” U.K. Government Foresight Review PDF

Ersche KD, Roiser JP, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2008), “Chronic cocaine but not chronic amphetamine use is associated with perseverative responding in humans.” Psychopharmacology (Berl) 197(3):421-31 PDF Details

Everitt BJ, Hutchinson DM, Ersche, KD, Pelloux J, Dalley JW, Robbins TW (2008), “The orbital prefrontal cortex and drug addiction in animals and humans” New York Academy of Science 1121, 576 – 597

Robbins TW, Ersche KD, Everitt BJ (2008), “Drug addiction and the memory systems of the brain” New York Academy of Science 1141:1-21.


Ersche KD, Sahakian BJ (2007), “The neuropsychology of amphetamine and opiate dependence: implications for treatment.” Neuropsychol Rev 17(3):317-36 PDF Details


Clark L, Robbins TW, Ersche KD, Sahakian BJ (2006), “Reflection impulsivity in chronic and former substance users ” Biological Psychiatry 60, 515 – 522

Ersche KD, Clark L, London M, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2006), “Profile of executive and memory function associated with amphetamine and opiate dependence.” Neuropsychopharmacology 31(5):1036-47 PDF Details

Ersche KD, Fletcher PC, Roiser JP, Fryer TD, London M, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2006), “Differences in orbitofrontal activation during decision-making between methadone-maintained opiate users, heroin users and healthy volunteers ” Psychopharmacology 188, 364 – 373 PDF


Ersche KD, Fletcher PC, Lewis SJG, Clark L, Stocks-Gee G, London M, Deakin JB, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2005), “Abnormal frontal activations related to decision-making in current and former amphetamine and opiate dependent individuals” Psychopharmacology 180, 612-623 PDF

Ersche KD, Roiser JP, Clark L, London M, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2005), “Punishment induces risky decision-making in methadone-maintained opiate users but not in heroin users or healthy volunteers” Neuropsychopharmacology 30, 2115 – 2124 PDF