Institute of Neuroscience

Staff Profile

Professor Adrian Rees

Professor of Auditory Neuroscience



I graduated from Oxford University (Keble College) with a BA in Physiological Sciences and continued there, first as a postgraduate student, supervised by Roy Kay and Gary Green, to gain my DPhil, and later as Staines Medical Research Fellow at Exeter College.  I left to spend two years as a Harkness Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh where I worked with Aage Møller on the encoding of frequency and amplitude modulated sounds by single neurons in the midbrain. On my return to the UK, I continued this research with Alan Palmer at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham before being appointed to a lectureship in Physiological Sciences at Newcastle.  I am currently in the Institute of Neuroscience where I am Professor of Auditory Neuroscience. 


2013 - date    Professor of Auditory Neuroscience, Newcastle University

2004-2013     Reader in Auditory Neuroscience, Newcastle University

1998             Visiting Professor, University of Salamanca

1997-04        Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

1988-97        Lecturer in Physiology Sciences, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

1985-88        Auditory Physiologist, MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham

1983-85        Harkness Fellow  & Visiting Professor, Dept of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh

1980-83        Staines Medical Research Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford

Esteem Factors

Joint winner of the 2010 George Davey Howells Memorial Prize for the Oxford Handbook of Auditory Science, a 3 volume survey of hearing science.   Co-editor of Vol 2, The Auditory Brain.

Grant panel member for Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID)


Acoustical Society of America;  Association for Research in Otaryngology; British Society of Audiology; Physiological Society






Hearing is vital for survival in many animal species, and it underlies those most distinctively human attributes - speech and music.  The brain pathway that underlies hearing consists of a complex chain of processing centres running from the brainstem to the cortex.  I research how these centres are organised and their role in sound processing by applying a diverse range of techniques, from recording and labelling single neurons through functional imaging to psychophysics in humans. I am a member of the Newcastle Auditory Group and collaborate with other members of the Group and the Institute in my research, as well as with colleagues in other centres in the UK and in Spain.

A main focus of my lab is the functional organisation of the auditory midbrain, the inferior colliculus.  This paired structure is the centre where information from lower brainstem centres converges. We have explored how sound frequency is mapped within it, and, by blocking receptors for neurotransmitters on the neuronal scale, how excitatory and particularly inhibitory synapses determine the responses of its neurons. Inhibitory mechanisms play a major role in the inferior colliculus, and upsetting the balance of inhibition is implicated as a cause of tinnitus. Currently, we are addressing how the inferior colliculi operate in tandem in processes such as sound localisation through the application of techniques that allow us to inactivate the bundle of fibres that interconnects them.

A second emphasis in my research is how modulations in the amplitude and frequency of sounds are extracted and encoded. These temporal fluctuations are fundamental features of natural sounds, such as vocalisations. The information they contain plays an important part in our ability to identify sounds and to separate one sound from another when many competing sounds occur together.  Information about modulation is one of the main sounds attributes available to cochlear implant users. Our analysis of the responses of neurons in the midbrain to such sounds shows that neurons are selective for specific ranges of modulation rate, and recently my colleagues and I have shown using fMRI that modulation rate, as well as sound frequency, is mapped in the inferior colliculus.

An interest that has developed from my work on hearing is how the senses of hearing and vision interact. Such interactions are exemplified by illusions in which what you see changes what you hear, as for example, in the McGurk effect and ventriloquism. But these interactions are not just party tricks; lip reading makes an important, but often unnoticed, contribution to speech perception under adverse listening conditions, even more so for those with hearing impairment.  With my colleague Quoc Vuong, I am exploring the processes that underlie such phenomena by studying the ways vision and hearing combine to influence the ways subjects perceive changes in objects and sounds.


Undergraduate Teaching

  • PSC 1001  Physiology (lecturer)
  • PSC 3008  Physiology of the Nervous System (module leader & lecturer)
  • PSC 2012 Integrated Physiology (lecturer)
  • MBBS  Stage 2 Thought, Senses and Movement (lecturer)
  • MBBS   Accelerated Programme (lecturer)
  • CMB 3000 Biomedical Sciences Project  (supervisor)


Postgraduate teaching 

  • MMB8019    MRes  Sensory Systems (lecturer)


Teaching related duties

I am deputy chair of the Physiological Sciences Curriculum Committee and on the Board of Studies and Board of Examiners for Biomedical Sciences