EnvironMENTAL project: first seminar

April 8, 2022

Online (Online)


environMENTAL Seminar 1: Identification of adverse environmental signatures and their effect on brain and behaviour


This seminar is part of a series of 5 events. The next 4 seminars are planed as follows:

Seminar 2: Characterization of molecular, neurobiological and cognitive mechanisms underlying the brain and behavioural changes related to environmental adversity
Friday, 22. April 2022; 10.00h to 13.00h CET, 17.00h to 22.00h Chinese time.
Organizer: Sylvane Desrivieres, KCL

Seminar 3: Establishment of quantitative neurobiological biomarkers for prediction and stratification of environmentally-related mental illness
Monday, 23. May 2022; 9.00h to 12.00h CET, 16.00h to 21.00h Chinese time.
Organizer: Andre Marquand, Donders Institute

Seminar 4: Development of pharmacological, cognitive and educational interventions targeting molecular and neurobiological mechanisms of environmentally-sensitive symptoms of mental illness.
Friday, 24. June 2022; 9.00h to 12.00h CET, 16.00h to 21.00h Chinese time.
Organizer: Peter Sommer, KsiLink

Seminar 5: Establishing a programme of responsible research and innovation
Tuesday, 5 July from 9.00 to 13.00h CET 05 July from 9.00h to 13.00h CET, 16.00h to 22.00h Chinese time.
Organizer: Bernd Carsten Stahl, DMU



  • environMENTAL Introduction: aims, objectives and research strategy

Gunter Schumann,

Centre for Population Neuroscience and Stratified Medicine (PONS), ISTBI, Fudan University Shanghai and Dept. of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Charité University Medicine, Berlin.

'environMENTAL - Reducing the impact of major environmental challenges on mental health' will investigate how some of the greatest global environmental challenges, climate change, urbanisation, and psychosocial stress caused by the Covd19-pandemic affect brain health during the lifespan, and develop interventions aimed at prevention and early intervention. Leveraging federated cohort data of over 1 million European citizens and patients enriched with deep phenotyping data form large scale behavioural neuroimaging cohorts, we will identify brain mechanisms related to environmental adversity underlying symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and substance abuse. By linking population and patient data via geo-location to environmental data derived from remote sensing satellite measures, climate models as well as digital health applications, our interdisciplinary team will develop a neurocognitive model of multimodal environmental influences defined by transdiagnostic symptom groups of mental illness and their brain correlates. We will uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying this model using multi-modal omics analyses, 3D-brain organoid aggregates and virtual brain simulations. This work will provide an integrated perspective for each individual that incorporates the genetic and environmental influences on brain systems and psychopathology and behaviour, across the lifespan and spectrum of functioning, which we will apply to develop risk biomarkers and stratification markers for different disease mechanisms. Based on the mechanistic knowledge generated, we will then identify compounds targeting causal mechanisms of disease and develop in close collaborations with stakeholders adapted digital health interventions using virtual reality that target symptom clusters defined by shared brain mechanisms. Together, this project will lead to the development of objective biomarkers and evidence-based interventions that will significantly improve outcomes of environmentally-related mental illness.


  • environMENTAL cohort description, harmonisation and data federation strategy

Dennis van der Meer1, Lars T. Westlye1,2 & Ole A. Andreassen1

1Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital & Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway. 2Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway

Adverse environmental conditions influence mental health through highly complex neurobiological pathways, moderated by an individual’s genetic susceptibility. Adequate mapping of these intricate processes requires not only a wide array of data, from genomic to neuroimaging to clinical, but also very large sample sizes in order to obtain enough statistical power to detect subtle and complex relationships. environMENTAL has brought together a highly interdisciplinary team of researchers, and through its network gained access to a unique collection of some of the largest population and clinical cohorts in the world, totalling over 1.5M individuals. The opportunities granted by this wealth of data do come with major challenges, as the many different sources ensure substantial heterogeneity in terms of data characteristics. Further, the sensitive nature of this data mandates extreme care is taken to ensure privacy is respected and the relevant data protection rules and regulations are adhered.  The aim of our talk will be twofold: 1) To provide an overview of all cohorts available to environMENTAL analysists. We will thereby summarize their demographic compositions as well as the availability of the different data types relevant to reach the project objectives. 2) To present the project’s data harmonization and federation strategies, together with the available computational resources that enable optimal analysis of these complex datasets while complying with data protection laws.


  • environMENTAL approach to advance knowledge on mental trajectories associated with the pandemic: the COVIDMENT collaboration

Helga Ask1,2, Lars T. Westlye2,3, Ole A. Andreassen3 & Unnur A. Valdimarsdotttir4,5,6 

1Department of Mental Disorders, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway. 2Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway

3Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital & Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway. 4Center of Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.

5Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. 6Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.

The COVIDMENT project is a large-scale multinational collaboration between Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Sweden, and the UK which was established to significantly advance current knowledge of mental morbidity trajectories during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The project was funded by NordForsk and combine longitudinally measured mental health questionnaire data of >450,000 individuals with data-rich record linkages to the national health registry resources. In addition, detailed pre-pandemic data and genotype data is available for the majority of the cohorts. The COVIDMENT resources are well powered for a systematic exploration of trans-national heterogeneity in pandemic effects, including how variations in mitigating responses to COVID-19 pandemic and disease burden across countries impact on psychiatric symptoms and disorders, both in the general population and in specific risk groups. The key objective of the COVIDMENT initiative is overlapping with the aims of environMENTAL and will provide an important network for our investigation on psychiatric symptoms and disorders during and after the pandemic.


  • environMENTAL characterisation of urbanisation and climate by atmosphere and earth observation

Kerstin Schepanski1, Sören Hese2

1Free University Berlin, Institute for Meteorology, Radiation and Remote Sensing. 2Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Institute for Geography, Remote Sensing

Climate, weather and air pollution in concert determine the atmospheric environment and ultimately the air we breathe. Reoccurring daily weather conditions like sunshine cloudiness, wind, temperature and humidity, but also prolonged weather patterns fostering the development of life-threatening conditions like heat waves or flooding events may cause external stress impacting on mental health. Additionally, human activity such as industrialization and urbanization have modulated the local atmospheric environment, potentially feeding back on human wellbeing. In the framework of environMENTAL, we will examine key parameters characterizing the atmospheric environment (i.e., climate, weather, air pollution) to which population cohorts are exposed to by means of satellite observations and numerical model simulations (re-analysis data). The presentation will provide an overview on key atmospheric parameters identified as supposedly relevant to mental health and an outline on data analysis strategies.

We will use remote sensing satellite data and derived data products to spatially characterize urbanisation and urbanicity. The following datasets will be combined and fused to derive intermediate and final descriptions of urbanisation: the Global Urban Footprint dataset (DLR-GUF), the harmonized global night time light dataset (NTL), MODIS NDVI and NDBI,  global landcover data from MODIS Terra/Aqua and derived structural parameters to differentiate urban structure type (UST) using urban building height information from TanDEM_X global or SRTM30 data - depending on availability and height model accuracy. From surface height a terrain and a building height model is calculated using a local min approach within a building structure depending search range. The combination of NTL data and DLR-GUF/spectral indices and height data will allow further differentiation between types of urbanisation and indicators of socio-economic status or urban development status.


  • Disentangling the environmental impact on mental health – an integrated approach using the UK biobank cohort.

Elli Polemiti, Gunter Schumann

Centre for Population Neuroscience and Stratified Medicine (PONS), ISTBI, Fudan University Shanghai and Dept. of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Charité University Medicine, Berlin.

The EnvironMENTAL project aims to investigate the relationship between environment (built, climate/atmosphere, and regional socioeconomic status) and mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety and stress). Here we present a proof of concept study harnessing the power of the UK Biobank – a large prospective population-based study – with the goal to improve prevention and address health promotion. We propose to take into account our research framework for subsequently studies in other European population-based studies included in environMENTAL, such as the National Cohort Study of Germany (NAKO) and the Norwegian Biobank. Alongside this core aim, the present work centres in (1) describing the geolocation in detail through measurable attributes of environment in which participants reside, (2) identifying and mapping adverse environmental exposures and regional socioeconomic status, (3) testing hypotheses of the effect of environment on mental health (longitudinal analyses of historical and prospective data), (4) identifying interrelated processes and pathways that link environment, social context and health behaviours to mental health and (5) investigating the mediating effect of the structural and functional brain on the association between environment and mental health.


  • environMENTAL approach to app-based and ecological momentary assessment, and behavioural characterisation

Frauke Nees1, Michael Rapp2

1Institute of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel University, Kiel, Germany

2Department for Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

Personal and subjective perceptions and individual’s experiences (e.g., feelings, thoughts, behaviors) are key factors for mental health and modified by environmental contexts. While on the one hand, various aspects of, for example, behaviors are captured by standard single questionnaires and neuropsychological assessment batteries, representing domains and behavioral and psychological functions, it is, on the other hand, also important to capture behaviors in daily life and in an ecologically valid way. In our talk, we illustrate assessment-based systems and procedures that span along the environment and its consequences for and relation to MENTAL health. These include behavioral characterization schemes such as the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework, which has changed the conversation in mental health research since its initiation in 2010 and show contextual effects on respective RDoC domains. We will further introduce the delivery of ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) on mobile devices, including a mobile sensing framework, as state-of-the-art methodology for people’s everyday real-world behavior, and show how this can increase sensitivity of assessments, using information over time and across contexts.


  • Google Earth Engine, its components and its application in environMENTAL (Pre-recorded presentation)

Nicolas Clinton,

Google Inc.


April 8th from 10h to 13h


Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 913 134 0607

Passcode: 12345


Neurex workshops are part of the cycle B5 of the University of Basel. They allow students to gain Credit Points from attending workshops/meetings.

0.5 CP can be earned by attending groups of 2 seminars of the series (for example, april 8th & 22nd).

Important: Full rules & how to proceed available here.