The video above shows the brain of an intact zebrafish larva in which the activity of individual neurons has been visualized using light sheet microscopy and the expression of a fluorescent, genetically-encoded reporters of neural activity. This approach is used by the lab of Martin Meyer to understand the function, organisation and development of neural circuits, particularly those that control visually-driven behaviours.
Neuroscience is an exciting and emerging discipline which seeks to understand the most complex organ in the body, the nervous system. As a modern and multidisciplinary subject, it draws together knowledge from many avenues, encompassing molecular biology up to the psychological study of mind. Neuroscience teaching at King's, including our flagship Neuroscience BSc programme, is research-led and is constantly updated in the light of recent discoveries. King's contains several research centres at the international forefront of neuroscience, whose staff contribute to teaching on our undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes.
Teaching staff in the Department of Neuroscience Education have a large range of teaching experience and are researchers in a wide variety of fields. These include molecular and cell biology, neuroanatomy, pharmacology, synaptic physiology, psychology and behaviour and diseases, damage and regeneration of the nervous system. The Department of Neuroscience Education oversees teaching across a number of degree programmes including medical, dental and BSc degrees. Most neuroscience teachers have wide experience of different teaching methods and of using varied teaching strategies as well as developing new ones. The Neuroscience BSc programme is taught by employing a number of these methods, including small group teaching, concept mapping, laboratory practicals, coaching on presentation skills, essay writing and poster construction.
In the third year students benefit from individual supervision while carrying out a laboratory or literature project. A module which accompanies the laboratory project, Principles of Neurobiological Research, also gives students the chance to debate current controversies in neuroscience.
King's exemplifies excellence in neuroscience research with several internationally-recognised research centres, including the MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases (Wolfson CARD), and Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the Institute of Psychiatry.
This constellation of research centres probably represents one of the largest concentrations of investigators across Neuroscience topics in Europe, if not the world.
Our teaching staff carry out research. To follow are some examples of their recent discoveries:
Dr Anna Battaglia
My research interests include chronic pain, Eph receptors and ephrins, biopsychosocial models of chronic pain; pedagogy and critical thinking in HE.
I am extremely passionate about developing new ideas in the pedagogy of Neuroscience and of scientific disciplines in general and principally motivate young students. I am currently the organizer in collaboration with Dr Gavazzi of Perspectives on Pain and Nervous System Disorders; students on the module are required to become actively involved in their learning presenting in Journal Clubs, debating and discussing their posters. I am also the organizer of Behavioural Science where topics such as Gender Differences, Aggression and Mental Health are covered in an interactive way with the whole classroom participating in discussions. I organize the “Pain Scenario” for MBBS2 students on the Neurobiology of Pain and on the interdisciplinary management of chronic pain syndromes, with the aim to fill a gap in the undergraduate medical education; I am the lead for the Neuroscience, Behaviour and Social Science block in the new medical curriculum MBBS2020.
Professor Uwe Drescher
I am running the ‘Cellular and Systems Neuroscience’ module for 3rd year neuroscience students, the flagship module of the Neuroscience curriculum. Here we teach basic neuroscience to communicate the latest findings in neuroscientific research. We constantly update the content of this module by introducing new lectures, for example lectures on place and grid cells (the GPS system in the brain), the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system, and on computational neuroscience, a good knowledge of which is foreseeable essential for a career in neuroscience.
My research aims at a molecular understanding of neural connectivity in the mouse visual system, focussing here in particular on the control of presynapse formation. Recently we have established behavioural assays in zebrafish as a new avenue to better understand autism spectrum disorders. We are generating zebrafish mutants of candidate autism genes by CRISPR/cas9 genome editing.
Dr Manolis Fanto
My lab is based at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute and our research revolves around the question of how we keep our nervous system functional in adult age and how that fails in neurodegenerative pathologies. We deal with intracellular mechanisms of neuronal and glial homeostasis like autophagy and with the neurone-glia interactions that are required for organism life and function. We use a multi-system approach that integrates the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster with mouse models and mammalian cell cultures.
Professor Paul Francis
The research of this group focuses on the relationship between neurochemical changes in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their particular symptoms. Thus, we have shown that, in addition to the well-known relationship between acetylcholine and cognitive decline, there is a relationship between this system and non-cognitive, behavioural changes seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This then provides a scientific rationale for the clinical improvement in this domain following treatment with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEI).
Dr Isabella Gavazzi
My laboratory recently identified an entirely novel role for the ephrinB/EphB system as modulators of synaptic efficacy in the spinal cord, contributing to sensory abnormalities in persistent pain states. Chronic pain syndromes are a clinical problem of considerable importance. Despite the rapid growth of the area of pain research over the past two decades, the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie chronic pain states are still incompletely understood, and this incompleteness limits the range of therapeutic strategies that can be adopted. We have used a combination of biochemical, anatomical, behavioural and electrophysiological techniques on rats and transgenic mice to understand in more detail the role of the Eph/ephrin system in chronic pain, using several well characterised laboratory models of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. This work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the BBSRC and the ISRT.
Professor Peter Giese
Our team is studying mechanisms underlying hippocampus- and amygdala-dependent memory processes with the long-term aim to develop insights for treatments for memory dysfunctions in psychiatric illnesses. For our experiments we are using mice, which allows to combine state-of-the-art molecular experiments with behavioural studies.
Dr Robert Hindges
A fundamental issue during brain development is the correct formation of connections. Accuracy of these events is critical for the correct functioning of the brain, including processes involved in memory, learning, perception and behaviour. We are interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying this establishment of neural connectivity during development and its maintenance at later stages in life. Our research focuses on genes involved in the control of axon pathfinding and the formation of synaptic interactions between specific subpopulations of neurons. For this we use both mouse and zebrafish genetic systems, combined with genome editing and modern in vivo imaging technologies. We believe that our general understanding of circuit assembly and maintenance will give us also important insights into the molecular processes linked to psychological disorders.
Dr Frank Hirth
Current research in the lab addresses two fundamental questions: How is genetic information converted into neural circuits and behaviour? How are these processes affected in disorders of the brain? To address these questions in a systematic way in vivo, we are using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system and investigate how neural lineages form neural circuit elements mediating adaptive motor behaviour.
Dr Clemens Kiecker
Chair of Neuroscience Assessment Sub-Board
My main research interest is the embryogenesis of the forebrain, arguably the most complex subdivision of the vertebrate brain. I use gain- and loss-of-function approaches in chick embryos to establish genetic networks that regulate cell fate specification in specific areas of the forebrain (current regions of interest are the thalamus, hypothalamus and pineal organ). One of the key questions that I investigate is: what makes cells competent to respond to a molecular signal in a context-dependent manner? Moreover, I use gene expression analysis in different vertebrate species (birds, fish, reptiles, rodents) for comparative purposes.
I believe that one of the privileges of being in academia is to be able to be both a teacher (who conveys enthusiasm for scientific research to students) and a life-long student (of nature). I am passionate about excellence in teaching and my favourite teaching areas are embryology and (neuro)anatomy, as the former discipline holds the key to properly understand the latter.
Dr Martin Meyer
We are interested in how information about the visual scene is represented in the brain and how this information used to drive behaviour. We are also interested in the genetic and activity-dependent mechanisms that drive assembly of visual circuits. To address these questions, we are using zebrafish as a model organism. The brain of larval zebrafish is small, containing less than 100,000 neurons, but nevertheless supports a rich repertoire of visually-driven behaviours. Furthermore, because larvae are translucent the entire volume of the brain can be imaged non-invasively and with single-neuron resolution. We use in vivo imaging to study the structure and function of networks underlying visual behaviours at multiple spatial scales- from individual neurons to the entire brain.
Dr Wendy Noble
Our work focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. We have particular interests in how tau causes synaptic and neuronal dysfunction and the role of astrocytes in mediating synaptotoxicity in dementia. We use a diverse range of model systems to examine key proteins and pathways implicated in neurodegeneration and to conduct pre-clinical studies with potential therapeutic agents.
Dr Yannis Paloyelis
I joined the IoPPN in 2006 to study for an 1+3 MSc/PhD at the MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre. In my PhD I integrated psychology, genetics and neuroimaging to understand the processes underpinning reward processing deficits, impulsivity and reading difficulties in ADHD.
Switching fields, I joined the Neuroimaging department in 2011 for a postdoc to study the influence of social factors on pain, where I stumbled across oxytocin. The attraction was immediate and a lasting relationship was formed. I received an ESRC/MRC Future Research Leaders grant that allowed me to delve deeper into the oxytocin system in the human brain. My research focuses on understanding the oxytocin system in the human brain and its contribution to decision making and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Dr John Pizzey
Research includes understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for axonal regeneration in the peripheral vertebrate nervous system. Similarly, understanding why the adult CNS cannot regenerate. Delivery of genes into the adult CNS in an attempt to improve its regenerative capacity. Research also includes elucidating the role of the transcription factor GATA-6 in mammalian cardiogenesis.
Dr Qazi Rahman
My research interests include the psychobiology of human sexual orientation; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) mental health; neurocognitive sex differences; evolutionary theory; public understanding of science and psychology.
Dr Jon Robbins
Head of Department of Neuroscience Education
Most of my teaching is in the neuropharmacology area, in particular cellular and molecular aspects of nervous system function. I run a final year module for the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Department called Cell and Molecular Pharmacology. I am based in the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases. My research interests are cell signaling in the nervous system in both neurons and glia. I use a wide range of electrophysiological, optical and molecular approaches to study signaling, both within cells (i.e. second messenger systems) and between cells, neurotransmission. My most recent research is developing a way to get neurons to interact with semiconductor devices.
Dr Setzuko Sahara
We are focusing on the development of the mammalian neocortex, which is the control centre of our behaviour, thought and intellectual abilities. Our research focuses on cortical development, in particular the developmental switch of progenitors from self-renewing to neurogenic and gliogenic fates, and the fate determination processes of progenitors that generate various types of neurons and glia that make up the complex neural circuits of the brain. Decoding the mechanisms regulating the self-renewal capacity and competency of cortical progenitors is crucial to understanding: 1) how our brains undergo healthy development and what happens to the brain in psychiatric disorders, and 2) how we could develop novel strategies to regenerate damaged nervous system.
Dr Sarah Salvage
My research investigates the cause and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular, Parkinson’s disease. Specific interests are the search for novel neuroprotective agents to slow the progression of the disease, the investigation of novel symptomatic treatments with reduced incidence of dyskinesia. I am also Deputy Director of the National Parkinson Foundation (Miami, Florida) International Centre of Excellence.
Dr Deepak Sristava
Work in the Srivastava lab is centred on elucidating the complex molecular mechanisms underlying neuromodulatory control of neuronal connectivity in the cortex. Recently we have focused on the precise mechanisms that allow brain-synthesized estrogens to alter the number, shape and strength of connections between cortical neurons, thereby modulating the responsiveness of neurons to subsequent stimuli.
As aberrant alterations in neuronal circuitry is a fundamental property of many neurodevelopmental disorders including schizophrenia, understanding the mechanisms that control changes in connectivity is crucial in furthering our understanding of these disease states as well as for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.
Areas of neuroscience research at King's include:
- early patterning of the nervous system
- axon guidance and neuronal signalling pathways
- neural stem cells
- mechanisms of neuropathic pain
- synapse formation and synaptic plasticity
- motor neuron disease including identification of gene mutations in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- effects of normal and pathological ageing on the brain
- mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.