Roland Zahn

Professor, Dr

  • Phone80348
  • United Kingdom

  • 5500

Personal profile

Research interests

If you are interested in joining my lab or our research efforts please find further information here:

(Please find links to my King's PhD students' profiles in the supervision section)   

Current postdoctoral members of my lab:

Dr Cathy Spilling

Dr Andrew Lawrence

Externally co-supervised PhD students:

Dahna Choi (TU Dresden, DFG-ITRG Affective Disorders) - social emotional risk factors for mood disorders

Alex Nagle (Brighton & Sussex Medical School) - Neurofeedback in Depression

Saige Rutherford (Radboud University) - machine learning and neuroimaging of depression

Postdoctoral lab alumni:

  • Dr Phillippa Harrison (Postdoctoral Research Associate, ADeSS trial, NIHR-funded) 
  • Prof Xinhua Yang (Visiting Researcher, China Scholarship Council-funded)

I have joined the Centre for Affective Disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London in 2013. My lab's current research mainly focusses on developing novel personalised assessments and treatments based on advances in our understanding of  the cognitive-anatomical underpinnings of mood disorders and social behaviour in neuropsychiatric conditions. Recent insights into the neurocognitive architecture of social knowledge and moral motivations have opened up new perspectives on these clinical conditions. Overlapping fronto-temporo-mesolimbic neural networks are involved in knowing about the needs of others or socio-cultural norms (i.e. social knowledge) as well as feeling motivated to act upon them (i.e. moral motivations). This complex neural system supports our ability to interpret our own as well as other people's behaviour and to guide our actions accordingly. One of the challenges that we face every day is the attribution of causal agency to ourselves (i.e. self-blame or -praise) or others (i.e. other-blame, or -praise). This attribution of causal agency determines how we feel about failure or success and this is of core importance to our overall affective state. Our work has aimed at identifying the neuroanatomical basis of self-blaming (guilt), other-blaming (indignation),  self-praising (pride), and other-praising (gratitude) feelings. Wehave applied these new insights to the understanding of vulnerability to major depression which is associated with overgeneralized self-blame and to the loss of the ability to anticipate self-blame in frontotemporal dementia.

Our current research interests are to develop novel markers and treatments for affective disorders based on these new insights, by using cognitive and imaging methods, as well as neurostimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation), fMRI-neurofeedback, and psychological interventions. This also includes portable, mobile technology and virtual reality in collaboration with Prof Lucia Valmaggia. We have collaborated with primary care electronic health record providers to develop an antidepressant prescribing algorithm for the UK.

Biographical details

Clinical background

On completing my specialist training in general psychiatry and cognitive behavioural psychotherapy at Freiburg University in 2007, I have undertaken top-up training in old age psychiatry and worked since 2011 as an honorary consultant psychiatrist in the cognitive assessment clinic and the specialist service for affective disorders at South and Central Manchester University Hospitals. My clinical expertise is in treatment-resistant affective disorders, as well as differential diagnosis and treatment of cognitive and organic affective disorders. Since joining King's Health partners, I have been an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. After running a service specialising in mood disorders in primary care following the consultation liaison model over four years, I have started a mood clinic within our King's Student Mental Health Services and am continuing my role as a consultant psychiatrists in the National Service for Affective Disorders at the Maudsley Hospital, running the Vagus Nerve Stimulation clinic.

Educational background

I studied medicine at the Universities of Heidelberg and Aachen in Germany and completed my doctorate thesis on the clinical neuropsychology and neuroimaging of subcortical haemorrhages at University of Aachen in 1999.

Scientific biography

As a specialist trainee in neurology, I became interested in the neural basis of conceptual knowledge, which allows us to understand the meaning of objects and behaviour. Using fMRI in aphasic stroke patients, we showed a considerable degree of take–over of function within left-hemisphere areas, which contradicted dominant models of right hemispheric compensation. On continuing my clinical training in psychiatry at Freiburg University, I investigated the neural basis of conceptual knowledge in patients with neurodegenerative disorders providing support for the importance of the anterior temporal lobe in Alzheimer’s disease.

During my training in psychiatry and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, I became aware of the potential importance of the neuroscience of conceptual knowledge in understanding depression, which has been classically studied from the perspective of emotion research. While there was already a growing literature on the neural basis of general conceptual knowledge, the neural basis of conceptual knowledge of social behaviour (i.e. social concepts such as ‘stingy’, ‘tactless’, ‘honourable’), which is of eminent interest to psychiatry, was unknown. Funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the German National Academy of Sciences, I pursued this question at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. Using fMRI, we were able to identify a subregion within the anterior temporal lobe, that was selectively activated for social relative to non-social concepts [1]. We further provided definitive evidence for its necessary involvement in representing social concepts by showing selective impairments on social relative to non-social concepts in patients with right anterior temporal lobe neurodegeneration [2]. In addition, we demonstrated the involvement of the anterior temporal lobe in the neural representation of values and moral emotions such as guilt [3]. We were also the first to show that the subgenual cingulate region, known to be of key importance for major depression, was selectively activated for guilt [3,4]. Together with my supervisor Jordan Grafman, and my colleague Jorge Moll at the NIH, I formulated an influential model of moral cognition and emotion which, contrary to other models, incorporated a prominent role of social concepts [5,6]. This work has provided the foundation for a novel approach to the study of depression, which I have pursued at Manchester University, first supported by an internal award (Stepping Stone Fellowship) and from 2011 by an MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship. This has led to our identification of the first neurocognitive mechanism explaining excessive self-blame and self-worthlessness in major depressive disorder. As predicted from my earlier work, the anterior temporal lobe showed a functional decoupling from the subgenual cingulate cortex while patients with major depressive disorder experienced guilt [7]. Despite the theoretical importance of guilt and self-blame, first highlighted by Freud, their neural basis in depression was previously unknown. Our research filled an important gap in the understanding of how neurobiological and psychological mechanisms interact to produce distinctive symptoms of depression.

Based on this finding, during my MRC fellowship, continued at King's College, we have developed the first robust fMRI signature of recurrence risk in major depressive disorder that is able to make individual predictions [8, 10], a finding, we are currently seeking to replicate in our MRC-funded NESPRED study.

Since 2010, I have been an honorary principal investigator and advisor to the newly formed D’OR Research Institute in Rio de Janeiro headed by Jorge Moll. We have recently been able to show that affiliative emotional qualities, crucially important for guilt and sympathy, are selectively represented within the septo-hypothalamic area irrespective of hedonic value (positive or negative)[9]. This was the first study to demonstrate that the neural basis of affiliative feelings can be separated from other emotions. My collaborator Jorge Moll is leading efforts to develop neurofeedback interventions which are aimed at enhancing affiliation.

In Rio de Janeiro, we have used a newly developed neurofeedback software FRIEND

(available as a free toolbox for FSL:;jsessionid=F9FF0842ECB8C8CE75C5516F8DB8E71A)

to show that people with remitted major depression can modulate coupling between the anterior temporal and the subgenual regions and this increased their self-esteem:

Zahn et al NeuroImage Clinical 2019

Based on the technical proof-of-concept provided in this trial, a NARSAD independent investigator award enabled us to further investigate self-blame-related fMRI neurofeedback in patients insufficiently recovered from major depression to probe the feasibility and provide first evidence of potential efficacy. The study conducted by my PhD student Tanja Jaeckle (NeuroMooD) was published in 2022.

This blog describes my scientific journey and interest in self-blame in depression

Alastair Campbell, described his experience of self-blame neurofeedback in his book and film "Depression and Me" on BBC Horizon. To see how BBC journalist James Longman experienced going through our neurofeedback procedure, please see links below:


For more information on my lab, its aims and members, please see:


Hear more about our work on social knowledge and moral motivation in depression and neuropsychiatry in this BMJ podcast:



1.         Zahn,Moll,Krueger,Huey,Garrido,Grafman. Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci.USA 2007

2.         Zahn,Moll,Iyengar,Huey,Tierney,Krueger,Grafman. Brain 2009

3.         Zahn,Moll,Paiva,Garrido,Krueger,Huey,Grafman. Cereb.Cortex 2009

4.         Zahn,de Oliveira-Souza,Bramati,Garrido,Moll. Neurosci.Lett. 2009

5.         Moll,Zahn,de Oliveira-Souza,Krueger,Grafman. Nat.Rev.Neurosci. 2005

6.         Moll,De Oliveira-Souza,Zahn. Ann.NY.Acad.Sci 2008

7.         Green,Ralph,Moll,Deakin,Zahn. Arch.Gen.Psychiatry 2012

8.         Lythe, Moll, Gethin, Workman, Green, Lambon Ralph, Deakin, Zahn. JAMA Psychiatry 2015

9.         Moll,Bado,de Oliveira-Souza,Bramati,Lima,Paiva,Sato,Tovar-Moll,Zahn. J.Neurosci. 2012

10.  Lawrence, Stahl, Duan, Fennema, Jaeckle, Young, Dazzan, Moll, Zahn Biol Psychiatry CNNI 2022

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Medicine, Neuropsychologische Beeintraechtigungen nach umschriebenen subkortikalen Blutungen, University of Aachen (RWTH)

Award Date: 1 Jan 1999

External positions

Honorary Principal Investigator, D’Or Institute for Research and Education

2010 → …

Associate Editor, Social Neuroscience (Taylor & Francis)


  • RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
  • Social Cognition
  • Moral Emotion
  • Frontal cortex
  • Temporal cortex
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorders
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Social Behaviour
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Brain lesion
  • neurofeedback
  • MRI
  • Neuroimaging
  • Biomarkers
  • Experimental medicine
  • Clinical Trials
  • Decision Support Systems
  • Mobile health
  • Electronic health
  • Machine Learning
  • Personalised medicine


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