Prof. Peter McGuffin


Peter McGuffin Controversias Psiquiatria Barcelona
Talk The RDoC model. Diagnoses based on experimental paradigms and brain disfunctions
Date Friday, April 21st, 2017
Time 11:45 - 12:30


Peter McGuffin was born in Belfast, Ireland and emigrated with his parents at aged 10 to the Isle of Wight. He first decided that he wanted to be a psychiatrist at the age of 15 after coming across Freud’s 'Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis', in a local public library. He attended medical school at the University of Leeds, England where he graduated in 1972 and then received postgraduate training in internal medicine. It was at this stage that he became interested in genetics and had his first publications on immunogenetic aspects of coronary heart disease. He transferred this interest to psychiatric disorders and carried out one of the first genetic marker association studies on schizophrenia. He completed his training as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, London and was awarded a Medical Research Council Fellowship to study genetics at London University and at Washington University, St Louis Missouri. He subsequently became an MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at the Maudsley and the Institute of Psychiatry and then took up the Chair of Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff in 1987. He returned to London as Director of the MRC Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry in October 1998 and served as Dean of the Institute from 2007-2010. Despite his very early Freudian leanings Peter McGuffin’s research, his books and papers have been mainly on the genetics of normal and abnormal behaviour. He is married to psychiatrist, Professor Anne Farmer and they have 3 grown up children and 5 grandchildren His interests outside of psychiatry include horse riding, sailing, playing the classical guitar and running with his dogs.


The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project was launched by the then Director of the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and his colleagues in 2009 with the aim of developing a classification system for research based upon 'dimensions of neurobiology and observable behaviour'. There have subsequently been well over 200 publications on the topic according to PubMed, but what exactly is the RDoC model? In essence its authors propose that mental illnesses are: 1) disorders of brain circuits, 2) that can be identified with the tools of modern neuroscience such as neuro-imaging and 3) that data from neurogenetics , genomics and other methods will yield 'biosignatures'. In advocating the RDoC model its authors have implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) expressed a dissatisfaction with the neo-Kraepelinian symptom and sign based approach of current DSM classifications. But it could be argued that the RDoC approach is essentially paleo-Kraepelinian in its way of thinking and its aspirations. It is just that a search for 'disorders of brain circuits' has now replaced a search for 'lesions' and neuroimaging etc has replaced neuropathology and histopathology. In this lecture I will discuss where the RDoC is likely to take us and consider whether it is a whole new way of travelling or merely a rediscovery of the wheel. En route we will consider why developing DSM-5 was 'the wrong project at the wrong time' to such an extent that the major governmental funding body of mental health research in the US felt the need to attempt to devise a more rational alternative project.


Casey BJ, Craddock N, Cuthbert BN, Hyman SE, Lee FS, Ressler KJ (2013). DSM-5 and RDoC: progress in psychiatry research?. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2013 Nov;14(11):810-4.

[web] Cuthbert BN, Insel TR (2013). Toward the future of psychiatric diagnosis: the seven pillars of RDoC. BMC Med. 2013 May 14;11:126.

[web] Insel T, et al (2010). Research domain criteria (RDoC): toward a new classification framework for research on mental disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Jul;167(7):748-51.

McGuffin P, Farmer A. (2001). Polydiagnostic approaches to measuring and classifying psychopathology. Am J Med Genet. 2001 Jan 8;105(1):39-41.