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Neuroscience and psychology

Developmental, cellular, molecular, systems neuroscience; behavioural and clinical neuroscience; social and cognitive developmental psychology


Cambridge Neuroscience, as the University’s oldest running Strategic Initiative, has helped forge very strong links between basic and clinical research. Recently the psychology departments in Cambridge have merged, so an even broader range of social and educational aspects are now covered in the School of Biological Sciences and within Cambridge Neuroscience. At the same time methods from neuroscience are increasingly being used in psychology research. There are links with other themes especially developmental and stem cell biology. 

Some research highlights from that past few years are presented below:

Developmental, molecular and cellular neuroscience

·          The mechanisms that control the diversification of sensory neurons has shed new light on the evolutionary trajectory of sensory systems since tetrapods moved onto land.

·          Pioneering work has shown that local protein synthesis and degradation is necessary for axon guidance, branching, synapse formation and axon degeneration.

·          Screening of Drosophila for drugs used to treat neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s should help guide the development of new therapies.

·          Comparative research on NMDA receptors in the substantia nigra has led to deeper understanding of neural chemistry underlying some neurological and psychiatric diseases.

·          Neurochemical and cellular mechanisms underlying state changes in the brain, such as shifting from solitary into swarming mode in the locust have been characterized.

Sensory neuroscience

·         Advances have been made in understanding the fundamental mechanisms involved in sensory transduction including audition, vision, and olfaction. 

·        It has been found that extremely fast light responses in Drosophila photoreceptors are due to the mechanical gating of stretch-sensitive trp channels.

·        The mechanism by which the species-specific temporal features of male song are mirrored in the response properties of female auditory neurons has been uncovered.

·         Work on auditory psychophysics, including the development of novel methods for enhancing spectral changes in sounds, has led to improvements in the discrimination of human speech from background noise in hearing-impaired people.

·         Novel genetic approaches to understanding human vision include the first genome-wide association study of normal variations in human perception and demonstrations of tetrachromacy in women heterozygous for anomalous trichromacy.

Systems neuroscience

·         Recent achievements include the finding that climbing fibres' input to Golgi cells in the cerebellum induces long-term changes in their temporal firing properties and suggests a novel mechanism for cerebellar motor learning.

·         Functioning mechanical gears that precisely synchronise left and right leg extension better than the nervous system could in a jumping insect have been found.

·         Optogenetic research has shown left right asymmetry in the mechanisms of learning in the hippocampus, the behavioural consequences of which can now be investigated.

Behavioural and clinical neuroscience

·         The CamCAN consortium on neurocognitive mechanisms in ageing has developed pipelines for advanced network metrics that test hypotheses on age-related adaptation and plasticity.

·          Advances have been made in understanding the basis of drug addiction based on the hypothesis that addiction represents devolution of behavioural control from prefrontal cortex to striatum paralleling a shift from impulsive to compulsive behaviour

·         Work with drug abusers has identified novel neural endophenotypes for stimulant addiction and alcohol dependence.

·         Novel methods for assessing cognition have been developed and the role of the frontoparietal cortex in subjective experience of recollection and reality monitoring has been uncovered.

·         Translational and clinical studies are leading to an improved understanding of neuropsychological and neurochemical bases of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), frontal lobe injury, compulsive gambling, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders and depression. 

·         Important advances in understanding Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases have been made in further collaborations with Clinical Neurosciences.

·         Breakthroughs in understanding regulation of remyelination have opened up exciting new avenues for the development of regenerative therapies for demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Social and cognitive developmental psychology

·         In the Centre for Neuroscience and Education, a novel approach based on electrophysiology and functional imaging is being used to track cognitive processes relevant to developmental dyslexia and dyscalculia.

·         The Centre for Family Research has undertaken studies to identify risk factors for maternal depression and the value of sensitive interviewing in obtaining information in cases of child abuse.

·        The developmental disorders group is investigating, amongst other factors, the role of fetal testosterone in autism.

·         The comparative and developmental psychology group is to identifying new parallels between avian and child behaviour.