McLean Hospital 115 Mill Street Belmont, MA 02478
A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Dr. Öngür has a background in neuroscience and clinical psychiatry. He is currently the chief of the Psychotic Disorders Division, responsible for two inpatient units, a residential facility, and a specialty outpatient clinic. In addition to his clinical work, he receives funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and other sources for his research using brain imaging techniques to study chemical abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Dr. Öngür is currently the William P. and Henry B. Test Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of more than 80 articles on research into the neurobiology of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He has won awards from Harvard Medical School for his teaching of medical students and residents and for mentoring, and also serves as the associate editor of JAMA Psychiatry, a premier journal in the field.
The Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Research Program, led by Dr. Öngür, was founded in 2006 and has grown greatly in scope and depth since then. The long-term goal is to develop new treatments for patients in the Psychotic Disorders Division, including medicines, computer programs, and early intervention strategies.
Dr. Öngür’s group is working to understand brain abnormalities in people with psychotic disorders and to develop new treatment approaches to correct these abnormalities. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder commonly involve difficulty integrating thoughts and sensory input. In addition, people with these conditions often have abnormal moods, as in depressive and manic episodes. At McLean, innovative techniques are enabling researchers to look closely at the basic biology of psychotic disorders. Dr. Öngür and his staff apply an array of tools—including functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), genetics, cell biology, cognition research, and computational modeling—to probe and model the brain systems that go awry in these disorders.
Additional research approaches include a range of brain imaging techniques, clinical research (for example, identifying patterns in the ways patients present and respond to treatment), collaborations with researchers in genetics and cell biology, cognitive remediation featuring computer programs that improve patients’ cognition, and a longitudinal approach that seeks to identify biological markers for different stages and courses of illness.
The following is a sampling of the work in Dr. Öngür’s research program.
Hallucinations are a hallmark symptom of psychotic disorders. They cause significant patient distress and are not fully treated with conventional strategies. Dr. Öngür’s group recently discovered that abnormal interactions between left hemisphere language processing centers differentiate individuals with and without auditory hallucinations.
Higher order cognition depends on interactions among large scale cortical brain networks. The group recently discovered that cortical association networks are less segregated in individuals who have a history of psychosis, with notable disruption in a frontoparietal network involved in executive control functions.
The balance between excitation and inhibition is both energy demanding and computationally essential for maintaining the brain’s robust information processing capabilities. Using MRS, the research program recently found that ATP synthesis in individuals with schizophrenia is 22% lower than in the general population, a striking difference that might contribute to reduced cognitive function under stress. In addition, the program has found abnormalities in glutamate and GABA, the main excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain, respectively.
Scientists and the gaming industry have collaborated to design computer games and exercises that enhance cognition. Dr. Öngür and his staff have shown that these programs can improve cognition in people with bipolar disorder. This is a promising avenue for functional gains and improved outcomes in independent living and employment.
Dr, Öngür’s researchers have found subtle indications of brainwave abnormality in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Combined with emerging insights into brain chemistry and brain function, this moves the field closer to a multifaceted understanding of the brain.
Du F, Cooper AJ, Thida T, Shinn AK, Cohen BM, Öngür D. Myelin and axon abnormalities in schizophrenia measured with magnetic resonance imaging techniques. Biological Psychiatry 2013;74(6):451-7.
Baker JT, Holmes AJ, Masters GA, Yeo BT, Krienen F, Buckner RL, Öngür D. Disruption of cortical association networks in schizophrenia and psychotic bipolar disorder. JAMA Psychiatry 2014;71(2):109-18.
Du F, Cooper AJ, Thida T, Sehovic S, Lukas SE, Cohen BM, Zhang X, Öngür D. In vivo evidence for cerebral bioenergetic abnormalities in schizophrenia measured using 31P magnetization spectroscopy. JAMA Psychiatry 2014;71(1):19-27.
Belmont campus - Admissions Building, Room 320