Neurobiology Techniques

Studying the structure and function of the brain in order to understand mechanisms essential to Health, Wellbeing and Disease processes.

Contact: Dr Helen Anscomb


The study of the structure of the human brain goes way beyond what we can see with the naked eye. Inside the mammalian brain are a number of distinct, partitioned regions that specialise in defined functions such as sensation, motor output and associative processes. The underlying cellular structure is common to all of these regions and yet they perform vastly different tasks as a result of unique connectivity between the cells of different regions.

The fundamental circuitry differences between cortical regions is believed to be determined not only by the static morphological and connectivity properties between the neurons, but also by the dynamic properties of these individual cells and their subcellular elements (synaptic re-modelling and modifications) and many of these microcircuitry properties are yet to be fully defined.

My research focuses on exploring these so-called ‘micro-circuits’ within different regions of the mammalian cortex with the aim of demonstrating how neurological disease and pathological network functioning manifests within the human brain.

Current Research Interests/ Project Areas:

Hippocampal models of epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterised by episodes of abnormal electrical activity (seizures) in the neuronal pathways and circuits of the brain. This ongoing project area looks at different models of epilepsy recreated in an animal brain slice. This will enable the study of how seizure activity originates within the brain and the effects on structure and functioning at a cellular level, including how it effects synaptic connections within pathways and circuits of the brain.

Inhibition and epilepsy

What happens when your brain becomes over-excited? The result of too much excitation in the brain is abnormal electrical activity that leads to seizures and epilepsy. Normally the activity of the brain is kept in balance by inhibitory cells. However, there are many different types of inhibitory cells and not enough is known about how they function to "balance" the excitatory activity of the brain. This project area looks to explore the functions of different inhibitory cell populations in the brain with a view to better understanding the balance of activity in the brain.

Cytokines and cognition

In collaboration with the Psychiatric Neuroscience Research Unit [link to page] this project area focuses on the relationships between the immune system, behaviour and brain function and psychiatric diseases. This project area investigates many aspects of the roles of the immune system in health and disease of the CNS through the combined use of molecular genetic, behavioural and neurobiology techniques.

Glial cell structure & function in neural circuits.

Glial cells (astrocytes) don’t just support neurons structurally, they have an intimate relationship in the functioning of the neural circuitry and are able to modulate synaptic function and synaptic changes. In addition these cells are “reactive” in response to neural injury and the structure, function and adaptations of these cells require further investigation to understand their roles in normal brain function and in pathological/psychological illnesses. This ongoing project area aims to better define the roles of these important cells of the brain in neural circuitry.

No alt text

Figure 1: Putative pacemaker cells from the microcircuitry of the basal forebrain. (adapted from Henderson et al., (2001) J Comp Neurol 430, 410-32 and Garner et al., (2005) J Physiol 564; 83-102.)

Current/Past Students:

Mr Axel Von Streitberg (2009)

Mr Alexandre Pelouze (2009)

Mr Achim Walter (2010)

Ms Elena Viziteu (2010)

Mr Seth Delpachitra (2009-2011)

Mr Harris Eyre (2009-2011)