For almost 60 years the University has been a centre of excellence for invertebrate neuroscience. Today our researchers continue to contribute to the fight against a range of human health conditions, from dementia to alcohol dependency.
Invertebrate neuroscience at Southampton incorporates modern molecular genetic techniques and is supported by a world-class invertebrate research facility within the Institute for Life Sciences. Current studies include an investigation into the way alcohol affects neural circuits in a type of nematode worm, being conducted by Professor Lindy Holden-Dye and Dr Vincent O'Connor. Professor Philip Newland is investigating fundamental aspects of signal processing in locusts, and Dr Amritpal Mudher is using the fruit fly to study how Alzheimer's disease affects brain cells.
The foundation for this work was laid by pioneering neuroscientist Professor Gerald Kerkut, who joined the University in 1954. Gerald recognised that animals such as snails, cockroaches and crabs can offer insights into the functioning of the human brain because, at the most fundamental level, the mechanisms that send signals between brain cells have been conserved through evolution.
Gerald established a number of invertebrate model systems and drove an exciting and innovative research agenda which placed Southampton at the forefront of new discoveries into the chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that carry signals between brain cells.
In the 1970s our scientists, led by Geoffrey Woodruff and Robert Walker, broke new ground in this area by providing evidence for a new neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is a key chemical in central motor control in humans; a lack of dopamine results in the tremors, rigidity and decreased bodily movement found in Parkinsonism. Lindy says: "The work on dopamine illustrates the long-term importance of 'blue skies' research in this field, as these studies created a platform from which we have been able to develop a better understanding of human diseases."