As one of the two Directors of the Institute of Neuroscience I take an interest in all aspects of neuroscience in Newcastle. This involves fostering existing programmes of activity and developing new research initiatives. Please contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of Institute activity.
My undergraduate training was in Animal Physiology (B.Sc. Bath 1978-1982) followed by a PhD. at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge (1982-1986) where I conducted some of the first recordings of the electrical activity and membrane ion currents in normal pituitary cells. From 1986 to 2000 I was at the University of Bristol as a Royal Society University Research Fellow and then as a Reader. During this time I pursued two principal areas of research:- the transmitter functions of oxytocin and vasopressin, and the control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis. With Stafford Lightman, I developed methodology to examine the dynamics of HPA activity in rodents and used these methods to elucidate some of the CNS control mechanisms and pathways mediating the stress response. In 2000 I moved to the Chair of Psychobiology at the University of Newcastle and in 2003 was appointed Director of the Institute of Neuroscience jointly with Professor Anya Hurlbert.
My interests are in the regulation of systems that underlie stress, anxiety and depression, and the control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Corticosteroid hormones which increase during times of stress and anxiety can act on the brain to alter the structure and function of neural circuits. Furthermore changes to the circadian pattern of corticosteroid secretion may underlie the association between HPA activity and the onset of certain psychiatric disorders (notably anxiety and depression). To try to understand this association we have been elucidating the control of the serotonin (5-HT) system, in particular the transmitter interactions that regulate neurones in the raphe nuclei, and have been examining the effect of antiglucocorticoids on this regulation. My group also examines the neural circuits which are activated by stressful stimuli and the transmitter systems that control this, particularly the effects of the anxiolytic neuropeptide oxytocin.
A second major area of research interest relates to my role as Director of the Institute of Neuroscience. In this respect I am managing two major initiatives. The first is in ‘Neurotechnology’ in which we are working with nanotechnologists, electronic and MEMS engineers and chemists to develop novel technology that can be applied to the development of neuroprosthetic devices (e.g. retinal implants and cortical neurochips). The second is in ‘Neuroinformatics’ in which we are working with computer scientists with experience of e-Science infrastructure to establish GRID-based analysis and databasing facilities for neurophysiological data.