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- Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience
- Cognitive, Perceptual & Brain Sciences
- 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.
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.
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|
|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|