Catherine Toben

Dr Catherine Toben

Senior Lecturer

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Dr Catherine Toben
University of Adelaide , Discipline of Psychiatry.

Research Interests

A strong association between stressful life events and the onset of mental health disorders is often linked with chronic low grade inflammation. As an immunobiologist I am particularly interested in gaining a better understanding of the bidirectional and molecular links between brain function and immune system responses to stress which can lead to mental health pathophysiology. Specifically my work focuses on the identification of transcriptomic and proteomic signatures associated with alterations in particular symptom domains (such as cognition) of psychiatric disorders including depression, PTSD and schizophrenia. A further research focus is how interventions such as altered nutrition and/or mindfulness based practices can harness inherent neuro- regenerative and protective immune mechanisms to reduce stress induced psychiatric symptoms. Ongoing collection of empirical data from clinical cohorts as well as animal models of early and later life chronic stress is an important component of my methodology. 

Available Research Projects

Project 1 - miRNAs and their role in cognitive impairment in depression

Project description: In addition to mood changes, major depressive disorder (MDD) is also accompanied by cognitive dysfunction. The underlying biological mechanisms of altered cognition remain undefined. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), a type of small non coding RNA predominantly control the expression of their target mRNA to exert their function. Recent research demonstrates that brain alterations accompanying altered symptom domains such as cognition are associated with altered miRNA expression.

This study will conduct a PRISMA guided systematic review of existing literature to identify distinct miRNA signatures underlying cognitive impairment in depression. Using edgeR statistical package and pilot data from a larger Cognitive and Functional analyses in Mood study (CoFaMs), miRNA transcriptome wide and candidate based expression differences between those with low and high cognition in depression will also be analysed.  

Project available for: Third Year / Honours
Location: Discipline of Psychiatry, Level 6, Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, North Tce
Research project start: Semester 1 and Semester 2
Special requirements: n/a


Project 2 - differing and shared immune signatures across psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders 

Project description: This project is a collaborative work with Dr Tim Sargeant at the Hopwood Centre for Neurobiology, SAHMRI.

Major psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases are pathologically related to brain abnormalities. Although the manifestations differ in each case the aetiologies remain undefined. Current research implies neuroinflammation to be a key pathogenic mediator of neuropsychiatric disorders. Unclear are the immune signatures across disorders which contribute to the specific pathology.

Using PRISMA guidelines this study will systematically identify the shared and differing immune signatures across three neuropsychiatric disorders including major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and three neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. It will also include both innate and adaptive cellular and molecular immune responses.

Project available for: Third Year students
Location: Discipline of Psychiatry, Level 6, Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, North Tce
Research project start: Semester 1 and 2
Special requirements: Nil


Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) Research Funds: Clinical Project research grant – 2018 $40,242.00, CI-B Title: To investigate the association of complement, oxidative and inflammatory markers and BDNF with cognitive and general function in chronic psychosis


Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Australia, SA Branch: Student Research Scholarship - 2017 $2,500.00, CI-C Title: The association between Interleukin-1 and psychotic symptoms in patients treated with clozapine and aripiprazole


Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) Research Funds: Clinical Project research grant – 2017 $44,588.00, CI-A Title: Identification of altered regulatory miRNA expression associated with altered systemic cytokine expression in a clinical cohort of patients with recurrent depression at the Royal Adelaide Hospital 


Rebecca L Cooper Grant – 2015 $19,850, CI-B Title: A centralised Neuropsychiatric Biobank and Disease Marker Centre

Undergraduate Programmes

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Elective Course "Fundamentals of Biological Psychiatry": topic lectures - "Pathways to neuroinflammation"; "Neuroinflammation associated with major psychiatric disorders", "The serotonergic system in major depression", The dopaminergic system in psychiatric diseases".

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences "Scientific Basis of Medicine III Part 2": topic lecture - "Immune System and the Nervous System"

Postgraduate Programmes

MBBS Yr6 Psychiatry Selective Coordinator 

  • Position: Senior Lecturer
  • Phone: 83137318
  • Email:
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 6
  • Org Unit: Medical Specialties

Connect With Me
External Profiles