Developmental neurobiology

We study the underlying biological basis for schizophrenia, with the goal of finding public health interventions that will alleviate the burden of this disease.

The laboratory has been exploring the impact of developmental vitamin D deficiency on brain development, the impact of adult vitamin D deficiency on brain function and behaviour and, more recently, has been establishing novel ways to assess cognitive behaviour in rodents.

In 2015, the Burne laboratory built on previous research on low prenatal vitamin D (the “sunshine hormone”) to show that adult vitamin D deficiency is also associated with alterations in behaviour, brain neurochemistry and receptor profiles. They have discovered that low vitamin D levels during adulthood affect the balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain, and also alter cognitive behaviour in rodents. These results provide the first evidence in mice to show that adult vitamin D deficiency impacts on neurotransmitter systems that are affected in a number of neuropsychiatric conditions, including autism, schizophrenia and depression.

Ongoing NHMRC funding allows the laboratory to dissect the exact neural pathways involved in cognitive impairments of attentional processing in vitamin D–deficient animals to model the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia.

The Burne laboratory has also created and validated a unique cognitive task for rodents that mirrors the continuous performance task in humans. The laboratory’s goal is to provide a novel tool for cognitive research in rodents and to uncover more about the pathophysiology and drug treatment of cognitive symptoms in schizophrenia.

Group leader

Associate Professor Thomas Burne

Associate Professor Thomas Burne

Group Leader, Developmental neurobiology

Conjoint Principal Research Fellow

  +61 7 334 66371
UQ Researcher Profile


Group Publications

  • Professor John McGrath, The University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Darryl Eyles, The University of Queensland
  • Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, Griffith University
  • Dr Amy Johnston, Griffith University
  • Dr Tim Karl, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute
  • Associate Professor Chao Deng, University of Wollongong
  • Professor Fred Meunier, The University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Karen Moritz, The University of Queensland
  • Dr Ethan Scott, The University of Queensland
  • Dr Suyinn Chong, Mater Research
  • Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen, The University of Queensland

Zhang, C.R.C., Ho, M.-H., Sanchez Vega, M., Burne, T.H., and Chong, S. (2015) Prenatal ethanol exposure alters adult hippocampal VGLUT2 expression with concomitant changes in promoter DNA methylation, H3K4 trimethylation and miR-467b-5p levels, Epigenetics and Chromatin. 8:40, 1-12.

McGrath, J., Vinkhuyzen, A., Eyles, D.W., Burne, T.H.J., Blanken, L., Kruithof, C., Verhulst, F., Jaddoe, V. and Tiemeier, H. (2016) Gestational vitamin D deficiency and autism-related traits: The Generation R Study. Molecular Psychiatry, doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.213

Turner, K. M., Simpson, C.G. and Burne, T. H. J. (2017) BALB/c mice can learn touchscreen visual discrimination and reversal tasks faster than C57BL/6J mice. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 11, 16.

Turner, K. M., Peak, J. and Burne T. H. J., (2017) Baseline-dependent effects of amphetamine on attention are associated with striatal dopamine metabolism, Scientific Reports, 7(1), 297

Turner, Karly M., Young, Jared W., McGrath, John J., Eyles, Darryl W. and Burne, Thomas H. J. (2013) Cognitive performance and response inhibition in developmentally vitamin D (DVD)-deficient ratsBehavioural Brain Research,242 1: 47-53. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2012.12.029

Groves, Natalie J., Kesby, James P., Eyles, Darryl W., McGrath, John J., Mackay-Sim, Alan and Burne, Thomas H. J. (2013) Adult vitamin D deficiency leads to behavioural and brain neurochemical alterations in C57BL/6J and BALB/c miceBehavioural Brain Research241 1: 120-131. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2012.12.001

Eyles, Darryl, Burne, Thomas H. J. and McGrath, John J. (2013) Vitamin D, effects on brain development, adult brain function and the links between low levels of vitamin D and neuropsychiatric diseaseFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology,34 1: 47-64. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2012.07.001

Flatscher-Bader, T., Foldi, C. J., Chong, S., Whitelaw, E., Moser, R. J., Burne, T. H. J., Eyles, D. W. and McGrath, J. J. (2011) Increased de novo copy number variants in the offspring of older malesTranslational Psychiatry1 Article # e34: . doi:10.1038/tp.2011.30

Burne, T. H. J., Scott, E., van Swinderen, B., Hilliard, M., Reinhard, J., Claudianos, C., Eyles, D. W. and McGrath, J. J. (2011) Big ideas for small brains: What can psychiatry learn from worms, flies, bees and fish? Molecular Psychiatry,16 1: 7-16. doi:10.1038/mp.2010.35

McGrath, John J., Burne, Thomas H., Feron, Francois, Mackay-Sim, Allan and Eyles, Darryl W. (2010) Developmental vitamin D deficiency and risk of schizophrenia: A 10-year update. Schizophrenia Bulletin36 6: 1073-1078. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbq101

McGrath, John J., Eyles, Darryl W., Pedersen, Carsten B., Anderson, Cameron, Ko, Pauline, Burne, Thomas H., Norgaard-Pedersen, Bent, Hougaard, David M. and Mortensen, Preben B. (2010) Neonatal vitamin D status and risk of schizophrenia: A population-based case-control study. Archives of General Psychiatry67 9: 889-894. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.110

Foldi, Claire J., Eyles, Darryl W., McGrath, John J. and Burne, Thomas H. J. (2010) Advanced paternal age is associated with alterations in discrete behavioural domains and cortical neuroanatomy of C57BL/6J miceEuropean Journal of Neuroscience31 3: 556-564. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2010.07074.x

Saha, Sukanta, Barnett, Adrian G., Foldi, Claire, Burne, Thomas H., Eyles, Darryl W., Buka, Stephen L. and McGrath, John J. (2009) Advanced paternal age is associated with impaired neurocognitive outcomes during infancy and childhood. PLoS Medicine6 3: 0303-0311. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000040

Murrell, Wayne, Wetzig, Andrew, Donnellan, Michael, Féron, François, Burne, Tom, Meedeniya, Adrian, Kesby, James, Bianco, John, Perry, Chris, Silburn, Peter and Mackay-Sim, Alan (2008) Olfactory mucosa is a potential source for autologous stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease. Stem Cells26 8: 2183-2192. doi:10.1634/stemcells.2008-0074

O'Loan, Jonathan, Eyles, Darryl W., Kesby, James, Ko, Pauline, McGrath, John J. and Burne, Thomas H. J. (2007) Vitamin D deficiency during various stages of pregnancy in the rat: Its impact on development and behavior in adult offspringPsychoneuroendocrinology32 3: 227-234. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2006.12.006

Kesby, James P., Burne, Thomas H.J., McGrath, John J. and Eyles, Darryl W. (2006) Developmental vitamin D deficiency alters MK 801-induced hyperlocomotion in the adult rat: An animal model of schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry60 6: 591-596. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.02.033

Research Areas

  • Neuropsychiatric diseases (e.g. schizophrenia) 
  • Vitamin D deficiency (DVD)
  • Advanced paternal age and brain development 
  • Epidemiology
  • Psychiatry 
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Molecular biology 
  • Developmental biology 
  • Behavioural neuroscience 
  • Autism

Our team

Group Leader

Research Members


Support Staff

  • Ms Pauline Ko

    Principal ResearchFellow (Conjoint)
    Queensland Brain Institute