Vollenweider Kometer

Fakultäten » Medizinische Fakultät » Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik » Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Psychosomatik, Klinik für » Prof. Dr. F. X. Vollenweider » Vollenweider Kometer

Completed research project

Title / Titel Beyond the self and back: Neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying the dissolution of the self.
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Summary / Zusammenfassung Background: Self is the representation of one`s identity and the subject of experience. It assembles the experiences such as being the author of its own activities, distinct from others and same across time. Recently, the phenomenon of self has entered into neuroscientific research. The fundamental question raised by neuroscience is how the brain gives rise to a coherent self-experience and what are the characteristics of self-related brain processing. A particular opportunity for studying the self is offered by conditions where the ordinary organization of the self is changed. Such an opportunity is given by the altered states of consciousness. Psilocybin is a pharmacological agent able to transiently produce alterations in self-consciousness, experiencing the self and self-related perceptions. Therefore, by assessing the psilocybin-induced loosening of self boundaries we may quantify self-related functions and gain valuable insights into their biological substrate.

Study aims: The aim of the study is to identify neural signatures, behavioral and phenomenological expressions of self-related processes including: sense of agency, semantic distinction beetween self and other, selflessness (altruism), social agency, embodied self (interoception), perceptual functioning of dissolved self including hallucinations and crossmodal processing.

Methods: A placebo-controlled, double-blind procedure using moderate doses of psilocybin will be conducted. In this study, healthy long-term mediators will be assessed by functional brain imaging (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging; fMRI) and psychometric measures to identify brain neuroplastic factors before and after a mindfulness based mediation intervention and administration of placebo (n=20: 5x4 ) and psilocybin (n=20: 5x4).
Significance: By investigating the neuropsychopharmacological mechanism of self and self-related processes using modern imaging techniques, we are addressing the fundamental building blocks of our subjective experience. Understanding these mechanisms and brain substrate may have huge implications for neuroscience and serve as an explanatory platform for maladaptive behavior linked to disturbances of self-functions. Most importantly, the understanding of the brain neuroplastic factors that lead to a stabilization of self-related processing in long-term meditators through mindfulness training shall foster the development of novel therapeutic approaches based on learning and stress reduction strategies to improve dysfunctions of the self in various psychiatric disorders such as depression. Furthermore identifying the molecular and systemic mechanisms underlying the loosening of self boundaries in psilocybin states shall lead to develop more specific pharmacological treatments of self dysfunctions as seen in schizophrenia which are urgently needed. Thus, by identifying psychological, neurobiological and environmental factors that enhance self functioning we hope to contribute to the improvement of serious disabling psychiatric conditions and to the reduction of socioeconomic burden.
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Prof. Dr. med Franz X. Vollenweider (Project Leader)
Dr. Michael Kometer (Project Leader)
Msc., MA Lukasz Smigielski
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
In collaboration with /
In Zusammenarbeit mit
Dr. Thonas König, Department of Psychiatric Neurophysiology, University Hospital of Psychiatry, University of Bern Switzerland
Duration of Project / Projektdauer May 2013 to May 2016