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Prof Kate Jeffery
26 Bedford Way
epartment of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences
Tel: 020 7679 5308
Fax: 020 7436 4276
  • Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Div of Psychology & Language Sciences
  • Faculty of Brain Sciences

I originally trained as a doctor, in my native New Zealand. During my medical training I became very interested in the brain and how it works, and in particular, how it could form mystical entities like thoughts, beliefs and consciousness using only neurons. After qualifying, I dipped my toes in the research water with an MSc, with Cliff Abraham, at Otago University in NZ, where I studied a physiological phenomenon known as LTP, thought to be a memory mechanism. After that I was hooked on research. I moved across the planet to Edinburgh to do my PhD with Richard Morris, looking at how LTP relates to spatial behaviour, and then spent my postdoc years with John O’Keefe at University College London, learning to study spatially sensitive neurons at the single-cell level. I then took up a lectureship across the road in the Psychology Department, where I have been ever since. There I founded the “Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience,” a laboratory comprising several animal researchers, most of whom use physiological methods to study cognition. Bringing behavioural and physiological science together has been and continues to be a big goal of mine, in both teaching and research. In 2010 I became head of the subdivision of Psychology known as Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences.

Research Groups
Research Themes
Research Summary
Broadly speaking, I am interested in the fine-grained architecture of cognition - in other words, how is information represented in the brain? A particularly interesting forum for exploring this question is spatial cognition, because work has revealed the existence of a map-like representation of space in the brain that can be used for self-localisation and navigation. This cognitive map seems to reside in a network of neural structures including the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. The big questions concerning the cognitive map are (1) How is it constructed, and (2) What is it for?

My work involves recording single neurons from these structures in freely moving and exploring rats, to determine how the cells respond to spatial information. The hippocampal neurons (place cells) encode location in a complex, multidimensional space, and some entorhinal neurons (grid cells) have the recently discovered property that they mark out distances across the environment, forming a grid-like array of activity that can presumably be used by other brain structures in spatial computations. I am currently pursuing a number of questions related to these neurons: (1) How does a place cell determine where it is? (2) How do place cells integrate spatial and non-spatial information? (3) What determines the spacing between the activity peaks of grid cells? (In other words, how does a grid cell calculate how far the animal has gone, and in what direction?) (4) How are spatial and non-spatial inputs integrated (by both place cells and grid cells)?

As well as single neuron studies, I have been exploring behavioural tasks that will enable us to determine how an animal determines where it is, or where it is going. These studies will help uncover what the cognitive map is used for.

More generally, I am also interested in how information from very different sensory modalities is integrated to form meaningful supra-modal representations. Within the spatial domain this includes how static information (such as from landmarks) is integrated with motion information (as an animal moves) and also how metric information (distances and directions) is integrated with non-metric information (e.g. olfactory cues). This work also extends into the non-spatial domain to involve so-called configural learning. The eventual goal is to find out where in the brain these different types of integration occur, and then to discover their neural (e.g. synaptic) bases.
Teaching Summary
I am interested in teaching the neuroscience of behaviour to Psychology students, many of whom have not have much biology teaching previously.

I teach:

First-year module on basic neuroscience in "Concepts and methods in Psychology"

Second-year course "Brain and Behaviour"

Third-year course "Topics in Neurobiology"
01-OCT-2010 – 30-SEP-2015 Head of Research Department Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences UCL, United Kingdom
Academic Background
1993 PhD Doctor of Philosophy University of Edinburgh
1989 MSc Master of Science University of Otago
1985 MB.ChB Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery University of Otago
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