The human central nervous system is composed of a multitude of nerve cell types. These cell types differ in the targets that they contact, the signalling chemicals (neurotransmitters) they release, and the way in which they are able to fire electrical action potentials that trigger release of their neurotransmitter(s). The question that my research addresses is:
How to individual nerve cells acquire their (often) unique signalling properties?
Recent research suggests that these properties arise from two mechanisms. First by differential expression of genes in specific classes of nerve cells. For such variation in gene expression to occur, it is implicit that each class of nerve cell must contain different factors, termed transcription factors, which in turn control a different set of downstream target genes. Second, nerve cells are exposed to many external factors derived from other neurons and glial cells. These external factors can shape the signalling properties of the receiving nerve cells.
The research in my lab uses the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, because it is very amenable to genetic analysis, the complete genome has been sequenced, and because it provides a simple model of the human nervous system.
I am a Professor in Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine & Health. Prior to this I was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the University of Warwick, which followed postdoctoral research at the Universities of Waterloo (Canada), Sussex and Cambridge.
In addition to acting as referee for numerous journals and grant-awarding bodies, I have been invited to speak at many international conferences including the US Society for Neuroscience and UK Neuroscience (BNA) meetings. I have also acted as organiser and lecturer for the internationally-respected Neurobiology of Drosophila practical course at Cold Spring Harbor Labs, NY, USA.