Brenda Penninx VU


First nameBrenda
Last namePenninx
FTE0.6 (2019 - 2028)
Brief summary of research over last 5 years

Brenda Penninx is a world leader in mental health research. She is full professor at the psychiatry department of Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, where she directs the mental health research group comprising of 8 full professors, 15 Associate/Assistant Professors and over 70 PhD students. Penninx is widely acknowledged for her cross-disciplinary approach to mental health research in which she integrates psychiatry, psychology, neuroimaging, genomics, psychoneuroendocinology, sociology and behavioural medicine. Early in her career Penninx realized that large, well-phenotyped longitudinal studies are crucial to understand how genetic vulnerability and life experiences interplay in determining a person’s risk to develop and maintain stress-related mental disorders. This was the stimulus for founding the multi-site, longitudinal Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (, an invaluable research resource for psychiatric epidemiology and biological and clinical psychiatry (which so far yielded >68 PhD-theses and >600 publications). She recently co-initiated the MARIO cohort that follows high-risk children and young adults in their stress and psychopathology patterns during life ( Her work is exemplary in transforming and enhancing the value of longitudinal cohort studies in order to better understand the multi-nature origin and longitudinal trajectories of stress-related disorders.

Penninx developed -omics research methodology for large-scale studies in psychiatry. Her group conducted the first large-scale genome wide association study (Mol Psychiatry 2009) and integrated this with e.g. environmental and neuroendocrinology data. Recently, she embedded real-world ambulatory assessments of behaviour and emotions in her studies. Penninx’s work on metabolic depression and the interplay between inflammation, the autonomic nervous system and the HPA-axis stress systems has been very influential in moving the field towards a more integral understanding of the aetiology of affective disorders. To translate her scientific work to practical applications in healthcare she is working with various public and private partners on the discovery of biomarkers for depression. Insights into heterogeneity helped to pave the way towards designing new personalised interventions. Funded through prestigious national or EU-grants Penninx also tests novel lifestyle (e.g. exercise and nutritional) interventions in ongoing studies (;

In terms of leadership Penninx has been able to weld a highly successful research group. With her relatively young age (48) Penninx shows that different roles (work, family) can be combined in such a way that outstanding scientific performance is possible. She is one of the role models for young (female) scientists: 90% of her past (n=51) and present (n=15) PhD-students are <35 years of age and 70% is female. As a member of the KNAW Young Academy she became involved in science policy and continues this with management positions in the Amsterdam Neuroscience, and the Amsterdam Public Health Research Institutes.

International visibility, activities, prizes, scholarships etc.
  • Brenda Penninx has over 800 PubMed publications, mostly in high-ranking international journals. Her Hirsh factor is 109 with a total number of 46.972 citations (Web of science, 1-9-2018). In 2014-2016 she received the Thompson Reuters award for highly cited author (provided to highest 1st percentile of researchers).
  • She has first- or senior-authored papers in e.g. Archives of General Psychiatry, JAMA (Psychiatry), Molecular Psychiatry, BMC Medicine and Lancet Psychiatry confirming the impact of mental health on somatic and public health outcomes across the life span. On these topics, she has regularly written invited authoritative reviews for e.g. BMC Medicine (2013), Lancet Psychiatry (2015, 2017) and Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews (2016). Penninx served on the Editorial Boards of 3 Journals (e.g. International Journal of Behavioural Medicine), and is currently on the Editorial Board of Lancet Psychiatry.
  • Penninx is frequently invited to present at international seminars or conferences (>150 presentations) and has given many keynote lectures for prominent international societies, Royal College of Psychiatrists, International Association for the Study of Obesity, German Society of Psychiatry and the International Society of Affective Disorders.
  • She has many ongoing international collaborations such as with the Psychiatric Genomics and the ENIGMA neuroimaging consortia involving over >50 international groups. She is member of the European Psychiatric Association, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Society of Biological Psychiatry, the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology and the American Psychosomatic Medicine Association. She serves at the executive committee of the International Society of Affective Disorders. She is member of Scientific Advisory Boards of the Dutch Depression Society and the German ‘Stiftung Deutsche Depressionhilfe’. In addition, she served on national and international review panels (e.g. NWO committees, Dutch Health Council, German Research Network on Psychiatric Disease, Danish Lundbeck Research Foundation, Swiss Research Foundation).
  • Penninx’s research is well funded by grants from the Dutch Scientific Organization (e.g. for the NESDA and MARIO projects), NIH (various genetics projects: Gain, Godot and epigenetics projects) and the EU (e.g. FP7-MC-Hetodep, H202-MC-GLOID, FP7Moodfood, FP7-ENGAGE, H2020-IMI-PRISM and H2020-IMI-RADAR projects, H2020-Lifebrain). Overall research funding totals >20 Million Euros. She received prestigious career grants from KNAW (fellowship grant 1997) and the Dutch Scientific Organization (VIDI-grant in 2006 and VICI-grant in 2010)
  • She received fellowship awards from the Niels Stensen Sichting, the Brookdale Foundation (New York) and the Gerontological Society of America. Penninx was member of the KNAW Young Academy from 2006-2010 and has been elected as member of the KNAW (Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences) in 2016 where she currently is board member of the medical, biomedical and health sciences executive committee
5 key publications coordinating researcher / PI
  1. Gerritsen L, Milaneschi Y, Vinkers CH, van Hemert AM, van Velzen L, Schmaal L, Penninx BW. HPA axis genes and their interaction with childhood maltreatment are related to cortisol levels and stress-related phenotypes. Neuropsychopharmacology 2017;42:2446-55.
  2. Lamers F, Vogelzangs N, Merikangas KR, de Jonge P, Beekman AT, Penninx BW. Evidence for a differential role of HPA-axis function, inflammation and metabolic syndrome in melancholic versus atypical depression. Mol Psychiatry 2013;18:692-9.
  3. Penninx BW, Milaneschi Y, Lamers F, Vogelzangs N. Understanding the somatic consequences of depression: biological mechanisms and the role of depression symptom profile. BMC Medicine 2013;11:129.
  4. Hu MX, Lamers F, de Geus EJ, Penninx BW. Differential Autonomic Nervous System activity in depression and anxiety during stress depending on type of stressor. Psychosom Med 2016;78:562-72.
  5. Milaneschi Y, Simmons WK, van Rossum EFC, Penninx BW. Depression and obesity: evidence of shared biological mechanisms. Mol Psychiatry 2018 Epub.