Dr Emma Devenney

Dr Emma Devenney, NHMRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Senior Lecturer, The University of Sydney.

Emma is a neurologist and NHMRC post-doctoral fellow at the Brain and Mind Centre and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. She completed her neurology training (UK) in 2018 and a PhD at the University of New South Wales in 2016. She was awarded a MNDRA post-doctoral fellowship on completion of her PhD and more recently an NHMRC investigator grant (2020). She has expertise in cognitive and behavioural neurology, clinical genetics and neuropsychiatric disorders. Her research incorporates clinical, cognitive, genetic and neuroimaging advances to address the critical need for biomarkers to improve diagnosis and serve as targets for patient stratification, treatment and intervention.

Forefront Group:

  • BMC ForeFront Neurology Research Group
  • Dominantly Inherited Non-Alzheimer Dementias (DINAD) Research Group

Affiliate Organisations

Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney

Neurodegeneration of interest:

FTD, MND, AD, Neuropsychiatric Disorders


  • Clinical Assessment
  • Cognition and Behaviour
  • Neuropsychiatry

Specific Skills:

  • Cognitive Neurologist
  • Neuropsychiatry and Genetics
  • Clinical Researcher


Defining the overlap between Motor Neuron Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia to Identify Novel Biomarkers of Neurodegeneration. CIA – Emma Devenney

Project - Defining the overlap between Motor Neuron Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia to Identify Novel Biomarkers of Neurodegeneration

All Chief investigators and associate investigators

CIA – Emma Devenney

Research Project Abstract

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) and Motor Neuron Disease (MND) are terminal, debilitating diseases with shared clinical, cognitive and pathological features. The economic and social burden is immense and as yet there are no effective cures or symptomatic therapies largely due to lack of reliable biomarkers of early disease. This has direct implications for clinical care that spans not only therapeutic challenges but also impacts significantly on the family unit who frequently report distress due to initial misdiagnosis and diagnostic delay that in turn delays access to support and interventional services.

My research program has identified an overlap between neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders and contributes to the accumulating evidence for a neurodegenerative-neuropsychiatric spectrum. My current research project (funding from 2020 – 2024) aims to harness this overlap between neurodegeneration and neuropsychiatry to address the urgent need for biomarkers of early disease states by applying a cross-specialty approach.

Disease area:

Dementia, MND, FTD, Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Challenges within the field

Despite significant efforts to identify biomarkers of early disease there remains a marked delay to diagnosis in MND and FTD and in many cases of FTD there is an initial misdiagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. Early symptoms can remain elusive to neurological investigations and particularly for MND many patients do not satisfy entry criteria to clinical trials until later in their disease course. At this stage, the progressive pathological process is already well-established.

Key Publications from this project

  • Ducharme S, Dols A, Laforce R, Devenney E, Kumfor F, van den Stock J, Dallaire-Théroux C, Seelaar H, Gossink F, Vijverberg E, Huey E. Recommendations to distinguish behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia from psychiatric disorders. Brain. 2020 Mar 4.
  • Devenney E, Highton-Williamson E, Caga J, Dharmadassa T, Ahmed RM, Ramsey E, Zoing M,. Hodges JR, Kiernan MC. Unravelling Psychosis in Motor Neurone Disease – a study of clinical features, cognition, and survival (2018) Platform Communications, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration, 19:sup1, 1-84.
  • Devenney EM, Ahmed RM, Halliday G, Piguet O, Kiernan MC, Hodges JR. Psychiatric disorders in C9orf72 kindreds: Study of 1,414 family members. Neurology. 2018 Oct 16;91(16)

Key Findings

  • This project has found that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Schizophrenia can cluster with neurodegenerative diseases within susceptible MND and FTD families suggesting shared mechanisms for disease expression across conditions.
  • I have found that psychiatric symptoms are common in patients with MND and FTD and often occur years before disease onset.
  • I have also identified a vulnerability profile associated with the development of treatment-resistant psychosis.
  • This project has identified improved survival for MND patients with psychotic symptoms.
  • This project has delineated the neural correlates of psychotic symptoms in FTD and MND that includes a distributed set of frontal and temporal regions that centre on the thalamus.
  • There is a strong translational component to this fellowship, which will have a significant impact on clinical practice, as well as providing useful insights into the brain behaviour relationship. This will in turn provide a basis for employing cross-speciality collaboration, between neurology and psychiatry, and allow management strategies to be shared across disciplines.