Dr Karen Ersche

Karen Ersche

University position


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


Department of Psychiatry


Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute and Brain Mapping Unit



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

Associated News Items

Key publications

Ersche KD, Gillan CM, Jones PS, Williams GB, Ward LHE, Luijten M, deWit S, Sahakian BJ, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2016), “Carrots and sticks fail to change behavior in cocaine addiction. ” Science 352 (6292):1468-1471 PDF

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Turton AJ, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Abnormal brain structure implicated in stimulant drug addiction.” Science 335(6068):601-4 PDF Details



Edward S and Ersche KD (2017), “The diverse facets and emerging potential of addiction research” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 13: 4-5

Ersche KD, Acosta-Cabronero J, Jones SP, Ziauddeen H, van Swelm R, Laarakkers C, Raha-Chowdhury R, Williams GB (2017), “Disrupted iron regulation in the brain and periphery in cocaine addiction.” Translational Psychiatry

Ersche KD, Doeffinger R (2017), “Inflammation and Infection in Cocaine Addiction” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 13: 203-209 PDF

McGonigle J, Murphy A, Paterson LM, Reed LJ, Nestor L, Nash J, Elliott R, Ersche KD, Flechais RS, Newbould R, Orban C, Smith DG, Taylor EM, Waldman AD, Robbins TW, Deakin JW, Nutt DJ, Lingford-Hughes AR, Suckling J; ICCAM Platform (2017), “The ICCAM platform study: An experimental medicine platform for evaluating new drugs for relapse prevention in addiction. Part B: fMRI description.” Journal of Pharmacology 31: 3-16

Murphy A, Nestor LJ, McGonigle J, PatersonL, Boyapati V, Ersche KD, Flechais RS, Kuchibatla S, Metastasio A, Orban C, Passetti F, Reed L, Smith DG, Suckling J, Taylor EM, Robbins TW, Lingford Hughes AM, Nutt DJ, Deakin JFW and Elliott R ICCAM Consortium (2017), “Acute D3 antagonist GSK598809 selectively enhances neural response during monetary reward anticipation in drug and alcohol dependence” Neuropsychopharmacology 2017 Jan 25.

Savulich G, Riccelli R, Passamonti L, Correia M, Deakin JFW, Elliott R, Flechais RS, Lingford-Hughes AR, McGonigle J, Murphy A, Nutt DJ, Orban C, Paterson LM, Reed LJ, Smith DG, Tait R, Taylor EM, Suckling S, Sahakian BJ, Robbins TW and Ersche KD ICCAM Platform (2017), “Effects of naltrexone are influenced by childhood adversity during negative emotional processing in addiction recovery” Translational Psychiatry


Ersche KD, Gillan CM, Jones PS, Williams GB, Ward LHE, Luijten M, deWit S, Sahakian BJ, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2016), “Carrots and sticks fail to change behavior in cocaine addiction.” Science 352 (6292):1468-1471 PDF

Medic N, Ziauddeen H, Ersche KD, Farooqi I, Bullmore ET, Nathan P, Ronan L, and Fletcher PC (2016), “Increased Body Mass Index is Associated with Specific Regional Alterations in Brain Structure ” International Journal of Obesity 40: 1177-82

Nestor LJ, Murphy A, McGonigle J, Orban C, Reed L, Taylor E, Flechais R, Paterson LM, Smith D, Bullmore ET, Ersche KD, Suckling J, Tait R, Elliott R, Deakin B, Rabiner I, Lingford-Hughes A, Nutt DJ, Sahakian B, Robbins TW; ICCAM Consortium. (2016), “Acute naltrexone does not remediate fronto-striatal disturbances in alcoholic and alcoholic polysubstance-dependent populations during a monetary incentive delay task.” Addiction Biology 2016 Sep 6

Taylor EM, Murphy A, Boyapati V, Ersche KD, Flechais R, Kuchibatla S, McGonigle J, Metastasio A, Nestor L, Orban C, Passetti F, Paterson L, Smith DG, Suckling J, Tait R, Lingford-Hughes AR, Robbins TW, Nutt DJ, Deakin WJF, Elliott R, ICCAM Platform (2016), “Impulsivity in abstinent alcohol and poly-drug dependence: a multi-dimensional approach” Psychopharmacology 223:1487-99


Ersche KD, Hagan CC, Smith DG, Jones PS, Calder AJ, Williams GB (2015), “In the face of threat: neural and endocrine correlates of impaired facial emotion recognition in cocaine dependence. ” Translational Psychiatry e570 PDF

Morein-Zamir S, Simon Jones P, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2015), “Take it or leave it: prefrontal control in recreational cocaine users.” Translational Psychiatry e582. PDF

Paterson LM, Flechais RSA, Murphy A, Reed LJ, SAbbott S, Boyapati V, Elliott R, Erritzoe, Ersche KD, Faluyi Y, Faravelli L, Fernandez-Egea E , Kalk , Kuchibatla SS, McGonigle J, Metastasio A, Mick I, Nestor L, Orban C, Passetti F, Rabiner EA, Smith DG, Suckling J, Tait R, Taylor EM, Waldman AD, Robbins TW, Deakin JFW, Nutt DJ, Lingford-Hughes AR, ICCAM Platform (2015), “The ICCAM platform study: An experimental medicine platform for evaluating new drugs for relapse prevention in addiction. Part A: Study description” Journal of Psychopharmacology 29 (9): 943-60

Whitelock CF, Agyepong HN, Patterson K, Ersche KD (2015), “Signing below the dotted line: signature position as a marker of vulnerability for visuospatial processing difficulties.” Neurocase 21(1):67-72 PDF Details


Billing L and Ersche KD (2014), “Cocaine’s Appetite for Fat and the Consequences on Body Weight” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 41(2):115-8 PDF

Ersche KD (2014), “Paying attention to biased attention in drug addiction.” CNS Spectr 19(3):213-4 PDF Details

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.” Biol Psychiatry 75(2):140-7 PDF Details

Patel AX, Kundu P, Rubinov M, Jones PS, 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 95:287-304 Details

Smith DG, Ersche KD (2014), “Using a drug-word Stroop task to differentiate recreational from dependent drug use.” CNS Spectr 19(3):247-55 Details

Smith DG, Simon Jones P, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2014), “Enhanced orbitofrontal cortex function and lack of attentional bias to cocaine cues in recreational stimulant users.” Biol Psychiatry 75(2):124-31 Details


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

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2013), “Cocaine dependence: a fast-track for brain ageing?” Mol Psychiatry 18(2):134-5 PDF Details

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Smith DG, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW (2013), “Distinctive personality traits and neural correlates associated with stimulant drug use versus familial risk of stimulant dependence.” Biol Psychiatry 74(2):137-44 PDF Details

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 PDF Details

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.” Curr Opin Neurobiol 23(4):615-24 PDF Details

Morein-Zamir S, Simon Jones P, 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 38(10):1945-53 Details

Smith DG, Jones PS, Bullmore ET, Robbins TW, Ersche KD (2013), “Cognitive control dysfunction and abnormal frontal cortex activation in stimulant drug users and their biological siblings.” Transl Psychiatry 3:e257 Details

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.” Addict Biol Details


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?” J Psychopharmacol 26(6):887-90 PDF Details

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, Turton AJ, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Abnormal brain structure implicated in stimulant drug addiction.” Science 335 (6068): 601-4 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.” Am J Psychiatry 169(9):926-36 PDF Details

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.” Addict Disord Their Treat 11(4):173-223 PDF Details

Meunier D, Ersche KD, Craig KJ, Fornito A, Merlo-Pich E, Fineberg NA, Shabbir SS, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2012), “Brain functional connectivity in stimulant drug dependence and obsessive-compulsive disorder.” Neuroimage 59(2):1461-8 Details

Robbins TW, Gillan CM, Smith DG, de Wit S, Ersche KD (2012), “Neurocognitive endophenotypes of impulsivity and compulsivity: towards dimensional psychiatry.” Trends Cogn Sci 16(1):81-91 Details


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 PS, 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(Pt 7):2013-24 PDF Details

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 D(2/3) receptor agonist.” Biol Psychiatry 70(8):754-62 PDF Details

Ersche KD, Roiser JP, Lucas M, Domenici E, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET (2011), “Peripheral biomarkers of cognitive response to dopamine receptor agonist treatment.” Psychopharmacology (Berl) 214(4):779-89 PDF Details

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), “Differences in self-reported decision-making styles in stimulant-dependent and opiate-dependent individuals.” Psychiatry Res 186(2-3):437-40 Details


Ersche KD, Bullmore ET, Craig KJ, Shabbir SS, Abbott S, Müller U, Ooi C, Suckling J, Barnes A, Sahakian BJ, Merlo-Pich EV, Robbins TW (2010), “Influence of compulsivity of drug abuse on dopaminergic modulation of attentional bias in stimulant dependence.” Arch Gen Psychiatry 67(6):632-44 PDF Details

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

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 (Berl) 212(3):357-67 Details


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


DeVito EE, Blackwell AD, Kent L, Ersche KD, Clark L, Salmond CH, Dezsery AM, Sahakian BJ (2008), “The effects of methylphenidate on decision making in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Biol Psychiatry 64(7):636-9 Details

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

Robbins TW, Ersche KD, Everitt BJ (2008), “Drug addiction and the memory systems of the brain.” Ann N Y Acad Sci 1141:1-21 Details


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

Everitt BJ, Hutcheson DM, Ersche KD, Pelloux Y, Dalley JW, Robbins TW (2007), “The orbital prefrontal cortex and drug addiction in laboratory animals and humans.” Ann N Y Acad Sci 1121:576-97 Details


Clark L, Robbins TW, Ersche KD, Sahakian BJ (2006), “Reflection impulsivity in current and former substance users.” Biol Psychiatry 60(5):515-22 Details

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 (Berl) 188(3):364-73 PDF Details


Ersche KD, Fletcher PC, Lewis SJ, 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 (Berl) 180(4):612-23 PDF Details

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(11):2115-24 PDF Details