Katherine Aitchison

Portrait image of Katherine Aitchison

Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychiatry

Office: 780-492-4018
Email: kaitchis@ualberta.ca


Dr. Aitchison leads the Precision AMH (Addictions and Mental Health) Lab at the University of Alberta, which focuses on precision health for mental health. As defined by Alberta Innovates, precision health "uses an individual's genetic makeup, environmental exposures and lifestyle to create and apply a program of illness prevention, detection and intervention."

Prevention - Together with Dr. Scot Purdon (Alberta Health Services) and Dr. Phil Tibbo (Dalhousie University), the Precision AMH Lab has been seeking to shed further light on genetic and environmental factors that may trigger the onset of a psychotic illness. The team's work has confirmed earlier findings in relation to the role that smoking cannabis in one's teenage years and genes such as one called COMT (relevant to the levels of dopamine in a key area of the brain) may play in this (Lodhi et al., 2017). They have also confirmed findings regarding a relationship between childhood trauma and vulnerability to psychosis (Roper, 2015). In addition, they have ongoing work that aims to prevent long-term physical ill-health in the context of mental health conditions, and to better understand factors relating to suicidal ideation and behaviours (in order to be able to take appropriate preventative measures), and conversely to resilience in the face of trauma (in order to make recommendations to enhance this).

Detection - Consistent with the National Institute of Mental Health Research Domain Criteria initiative (RDocC), the team seeks to use innovative approaches to the understanding of mental disorders, including applying a dimensional approach to the study of depression and to symptoms therein such as anhedonia (loss of pleasure in previously pleasurable activities; Ren et al., 2018). The team has also been the host laboratory for a Fulbright Canada Distinguished Scholar, who is an expert in the field of addiction, and, together with him and collaborators, are seeking to identify genetic factors associated with addictions.

Intervention - The team are working to bring comprehensive and robust testing for genes that predict how one's body will respond not only to medications but also to dietary substances and toxins to the clinic. Such testing will be useful not just for mental health but also for all areas of medicine and surgery. In addition, they are investigating factors that predict better response to treatment for physical ill-health in the context of mental health conditions.

Selected Publications:


Genes associated with anhedonia: a new analysis in a large clinical trial (GENDEP). Ren H, Fabbri C, Uher R, Rietschel M, Mors O, Henigsberg N, Hauser J, Zobel A, Maier W, Dernovsek MZ, Souery D, Cattaneo A, Breen G, Craig IW, Farmer AE, McGuffin P, Lewis CM, Aitchison KJ. 2018. Translational Psychiatry, 8(150): 1-11.

The DAT1 3" VNTR is associated with a reward deficiency phenotype in a study of sexual addiction. Lapetina DL, Hu X, Lee D, Roper L, Aryal G, Wallace K, Yu M, Carvalho Henriques B, Lodhi RJ, Carnes P, Isenberg R, Green B, Carnes P, Aitchison KJ. 2018. Bil Psychiat., 83(9): S445-S446.

Implications of cannabis legalization on youth and young adults. Tibbo P, Crocker CE, Lam RW, Meyer J, Sareen J, Aitchison KJ. January 2018. Can J Psychiat., 63(1): 65-71.

The LEP promotor SNP rs7799309 variant is associated with baseline weight gain in a group of Arab children and adolescents treated with risperidone. Almandil N, Lodhi R, Ren H, Besag F, Rossolatos D, Ohlsen R, Slomp C, Lapetina D, Plazzotta G, Murray ML, Al-Sulaiman A, Gringras P, Wong ICK*, Aitchison KJ* (2018). Molecular Neuropsychiatry, in press. *joint senior authors

Investigation of the COMT Val158Met variant association with age of onset of psychosis adjusting for cannabis use. Lodhi RJ, Wang Y, Rossolatos D, MacIntyre G, Bowker A, Crocker C, Ren H, Dimitrijevic A, Bugbee DA, Loverock A, Majeau B, Sivapalan S, Newton VM, Tibbo P, Purdon SE, Aitchison KJ. 2017. Brain and Behaviour, 7(11): e00850. DOI: 10.1002/brb3.850


New insights on the pharmacogenomics of antidepressant response from the GENDEP and STAR*D studies: rare variant analysis and high-density imputation. Fabbri C, Tansey KE, Perlis RH, Hauser J, Henigsberg N, Maier W, Mors O, Placentino A, Reitschel M, Souery D, Breen G, Curtis C, Sang-Hyuk L, Newhouse S, Patel H, Guipponi M, Perroud N, Bondolfi G, O'Donovan M, Lewis G, Biernacka JM, Weinshilboum RM, Farmer A, Aitchison K, Craig I, McGuffin P, Uher R, Lewis C. 2017. Pharmacogenomics J., 18(3): 413-421. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/tpj.2017.44


Childhood and later life stressors and Psychosis.

Roper L, Purdon S, Aitchison KJ (2015).

Clinical Neuropsychiatry, J Treatment Evaluation, 12(6):148-156. http://www.clinicalneuropsychiatry.org/pdf/Roper.pdf


Association of tardive dyskinesia with variation in CYP2D6: Is there a role for active metabolites?

Koola MM, Tsapakis EM, Wright P, Smith S, Kerwin Rip RW, Nugent KL, Aitchison KJ (2014).

J Psychopharmacology Mar 4;28(7):665-670. PMID: 24595968. DOI: 10.1177/0269881114523861. Open Access. http://jop.sagepub.com/content/28/7/665.full.pdf+html.


Genomics for clinical utility: the future is near.

Rossolatos D, Aitchison KJ (2014).

Genome Medicine, 2014 Jan 28;6(1):3. doi: 10.1186/gm522. http://genomemedicine.com/content/6/1/3. PMID: 24468134. Open Access.


Ecstasy, Legal Highs, and Designer Drug Use: A Canadian Perspective.

Hudson A, Lalies M, Baker G, Wells K, Aitchison KJ . 2014.

Drug Science, Policy and Law, vol. 1 2050324513509190; epub Feb 10, 2014 doi:10.1177/2050324513509190.