Franz X. Vollenweider

Franz X. Vollenweider, Prof. Dr. med.

Co-Director Center for Psychiatric Research                    Director Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging     & Heffter Research Center

Phone: +41 (0)58 384 26 04


Dr. Franz X. Vollenweider is currently Co-Director of the Center for Psychiatric Research, Director of the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Unit, and Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, University of Zurich. He is also the Director of the Heffter Research Center Zürich for Consciousness Studies (HRC-ZH), which he founded in 1998 and incorporated in his research group.

Vollenweider received his MD degree at the University of Zurich. He completed his doctoral thesis in experimental medicine at the Institute of Toxicology of the University and ETH of Zurich, was trained in neurochemistry at the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich, and in neuroimaging at the PET Centre of the PSI-ETH. In 1994 he became certified in the specialities of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Dr. Vollenweider is a leading expert in the areas of cognitive neuroscience and pharmacological models of psychosis and schizophrenia. His work links the area of psychopathology, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, and neuroimaging to study the neurobiology and to develop novel treatments for psychotic and affective disorders. He serves in a variety of advisory and review capacities for the SNF, BAG, Wellcome Trust, the Swiss NMF, and the HRI USA.

Dr. Vollenweider has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers, many of which addressing the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and the mechanisms of action of psychostimulants, hallucinogens, and entactogens in humans. His research is supported by multiple grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Federal Health Office, and the Heffter Research Institute (USA), and by multiple AWARDS from the NARSAD and the Fetzer Research Institute USA. He has received the Achievement Award of the Swiss Society of Psychiatry (1990), the Heffter Research Institute Award (1997), the Götz Prize of the University of Zurich (2000), and the British Association of Psychopharmacology Prize (2002).

Research Interests

Dr. Vollenweider’s research interests encompasses the area of psychopathology, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, and neuroimaging to study the neurobiology of psychotic and affective disorders and to develop novel treatments for these disorders . His current research focuses on the identification of brain mechanisms, and particularly the role of the brain glutamate and serotonin systems involved the modulation of self, visual perception, cognitive and emotional processes and social interaction in normal waking states and the dysfunctions of these processes in psychiatric patients. Multiple approaches including measures of experimental psychology, information processing (e.g. PPI, p50, MMN), and brain imaging techniques (e.g. PET, fMRI, MRS) are used for studying these functions.

Under the umbrella of the Heffter Research Center Zurich (HRC-ZH) pharmacological and non-pharmacological-induced altered states of consciousness (ASC) in healthy human subjects are used as models to identify the functional correlates and neurochemistry of self, visual perception, emotional and cognitive processes, their regulation and interdependence as well as their implication for health and psychiatric disorders. In particular, the ketamine, psilocybin, and MDMA model of psychopathology and mood regulation have been developed and applied over the last 20 years, and have been instrumental to further elucidate the role of NMDA and 5-HT2A/1A receptor functions in the pathophysiology of psychotic disorders. Such drug models in combination with information processing measures such as PPI, p50 and MMN have been shown to be a promising approach in elucidating neurophysiological endophenotype –markers that are associated with different domains of psychopathology or cognitive impairments.

In contrast, blockade of NMDA receptors by ketamine or activation of 5-HT2A receptors by psilocybin has also been shown to alter brain oscillations and to shift emotional processing from the negative to the positive in healthy human subjects. Understanding of the mechanism of the action of these compounds may be instrumental to further elucidate the rapid or putative long-term antidepressant effects of these compounds reported in depression and anxiety, and relevant to the development of novel treatments for these disorders.

To bridge the gap between preclinical and clinical research, we also aim further at developing new translational models to investigate clinically relevant drug effects in healthy human subjects rather than patients. The finding that healthy human subject with low baseline sensory gating capacity (e.g. PPI, p50) differentially respond to antipsychotic agents may provide such a model to search for neurophysiological and genetic biomarkers as well as pharmacological effects pertinent for psychotic and affective disorders.

Keywords, Methods

  • Psychopathology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Model of psychosis
  • Emotion preocessing
  • glutamate, serotonin
  • PPI, p50, MMN