Dr Nicola Johnstone

Researcher in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience


Areas of specialism

MRI/MRS; Microbiome-Gut-Brain axis ; Attention; Emotion; Cognitive Control; EEG


Research interests

My teaching

Courses I teach on


My publications


C Zich, NICOLA JOHNSTONE, Michael Lührs, Stephen Lisk, Simone P.W. Haller, Annalisa Lipp, Jennifer Y.F. Lau, KATHRIN COHEN KADOSH (2020)Modulatory effects of dynamic fMRI-based neurofeedback on emotion regulation networks in adolescent females, In: NeuroImage (Orlando, Fla.)220pp. 117053-117053 Elsevier Inc
Research has shown that difficulties with emotion regulation abilities in childhood and adolescence increase the risk for developing symptoms of mental disorders, e.g anxiety. We investigated whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)-based neurofeedback (NF) can modulate brain networks supporting emotion regulation abilities in adolescent females. We performed three experiments (Experiment 1: N ​= ​18; Experiment 2: N ​= ​30; Experiment 3: N ​= ​20). We first compared different NF implementations regarding their effectiveness of modulating prefrontal cortex (PFC)-amygdala functional connectivity (fc). Further we assessed the effects of fc-NF on neural measures, emotional/metacognitive measures and their associations. Finally, we probed the mechanism underlying fc-NF by examining concentrations of inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. Results showed that NF implementations differentially modulate PFC-amygdala fc. Using the most effective NF implementation we observed important relationships between neural and emotional/metacognitive measures, such as practice-related change in fc was related with change in thought control ability. Further, we found that the relationship between state anxiety prior to the MRI session and the effect of fc-NF was moderated by GABA concentrations in the PFC and anterior cingulate cortex. To conclude, we were able to show that fc-NF can be used in adolescent females to shape neural and emotional/metacognitive measures underlying emotion regulation. We further show that neurotransmitter concentrations moderate fc–NF–effects. •Neurofeedback implementations differentially modulate PFC-amygdala connectivity.•Functional connectivity neurofeedback affect measures of emotion regulation.•Neurotransmitter concentrations moderate neurofeedback effects.
NICOLA JOHNSTONE, KATHRIN COHEN KADOSH (2019)Why a developmental cognitive neuroscience approach may be key for future-proofing microbiota-gut-brain research, In: The Behavioral and brain sciences42 Cambridge University Press
Here we argue that a multidisciplinary research approach, such as currently practised in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience, is key to maintaining current momentum and to future-proof the field of microbiome-gut-brain research. Moreover, such a comprehensive approach will also bring us closer to our aims of translation and targeted intervention approaches to improve mental health and well-being.
NICOLA JOHNSTONE, Chiara Milesi, Olivia Burn, Bartholomeus van den Bogert, Arjen Nauta, KATHRYN HAYLEY HART, Paul T. Sowden, Philip W J Burnet, KATHRIN COHEN KADOSH (2021)Anxiolytic effects of a galacto-oligosaccharides prebiotic in healthy females (18-25 years) with corresponding changes in gut bacterial composition, In: Scientific reports11(1)pp. 8302-8302
Current research implicates pre- and probiotic supplementation as a potential tool for improving symptomology in physical and mental ailments, which makes it an attractive concept for clinicians and consumers alike. Here we focus on the transitional period of late adolescence and early adulthood during which effective interventions, such as nutritional supplementation to influence the gut microbiota, have the potential to offset health-related costs in later life. We examined multiple indices of mood and well-being in 64 healthy females in a 4-week double blind, placebo controlled galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) prebiotic supplement intervention and obtained stool samples at baseline and follow-up for gut microbiota sequencing and analyses. We report effects of the GOS intervention on self-reported high trait anxiety, attentional bias, and bacterial abundance, suggesting that dietary supplementation with a GOS prebiotic may improve indices of pre-clinical anxiety. Gut microbiota research has captured the imagination of the scientific and lay community alike, yet we are now at a stage where this early enthusiasm will need to be met with rigorous research in humans. Our work makes an important contribution to this effort by combining a psychobiotic intervention in a human sample with comprehensive behavioural and gut microbiota measures.