Domain Chair:

Prof. Trevor Smart

Domain Coordinator:

Dr Matt Wakelin

Communication and Events Officer:

Rachel Heatley


Systems Neuroscience

Side Image - Systems

Do babies feel pain?  How do we find our way home?  Which parts of our brain enable us to perceive the shape of an object, the colour of a flower, the direction from which a sound is heard?  Systems neuroscientists at UCL try to answer these and similar questions. 

They study the responses of nerve cells in different parts of the brain to pictures, tones, touches and smells.  They try to understand how groups of neurones cooperate with each other to extract information from the environment and use it to perform simple actions such as controlling delicate finger movements or more complex behaviours such as sleep and wakefulness.

UCL systems neuroscientists have made major contributions to our knowledge of which areas of the visual brain are responsible for the perception of colour and motion, how cells in the hippocampus underpin spatial memory and navigation, what the role of the cerebellum in motor learning is, and which spinal cord cells and neurotransmitters are involved in pain perception. Some of this knowledge is gained by disturbing or rendering inactive parts of the brain and observing how behaviour is modified. Other approaches involve monitoring interactions between nerve cells with microelectrodes, optical or chemical probes, and modifying the way they communicate with each other using specific drugs.

Although a great deal of this work is motivated by a desire to understand how the brain works, much of it is clinically relevant and may provide the basis for the development of drugs and other procedures to tackle such problems as pathological pains, hearing problems, developmental learning disorders, and the memory deficits of amnesics.