UCL Division of Biosciences

Prof Jason Rihel

Prof Jason Rihel

Professor of Behavioural Genetics

Cell & Developmental Biology

Div of Biosciences

Joined UCL
1st Jan 2012

Research summary

We study the genes and neurons that regulate sleep, using zebrafish as a model system.

Although we spend a third of our lives asleep, how and why the brain switches off at night remains one of the great mysteries of science. Especially unclear are the mechanisms that trigger increases in sleep pressure, which is the increased drive to sleep after periods of prolonged wakefulness. Since sleep is nearly universal in the animal kingdom, we can use simpler organisms like the zebrafish to identify the signals that drive sleep pressure and map where these signals are read out in the brain. Since many people suffer adverse health consequences from poor sleep, and sleep problems arise in many human conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and autism, we hope that improving our basic understanding of how sleep works will ultimately have a clinical impact.

Teaching summary

While at Harvard University, Dr. Rihel has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses on molecular biology and sensory systems, for which he received three ‘Distinction in Teaching’ awards. He also served as a laboratory course assistant for the “Molecular Cloning of Neural Genes” course at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. From 2000-2004, he served as a Non-Resident and eventually as a Resident Tutor in Biology for Harvard’s Pforzheimer House, an undergraduate house. 

At UCL, Dr. Rihel organizes a 3rd year course on Functional Genetics of Model Systems (CELL0013) and provides guest lectures on a variety of undergraduate, Master's, and PhD level courses.  


Harvard University
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2004
To be updated
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts (Honours) | 1998


In March 2012, Dr. Rihel joined the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at UCL, where he is a Senior Research Fellow probing the mysteries of sleep in zebrafish. He started his career in behavioral genetics as an undergraduate in Dr. Jeff Price’s lab at West Virginia University (WVU) by investigating the fruit fly circadian clock mutant, double-time. After graduating from WVU summa cum laude with Honors, he joined Dr. Catherine Dulac’s lab for his PhD studies at Harvard University (1998-2004). In the Dulac lab on a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) predoctoral fellowship, Dr. Rihel developed sensitive methods to observe gene expression in single cells, which he applied to studies on the molecular underpinnings of mouse pheromone detection. He cultivated his current research interests—understanding the genes and neurons that regulate sleep in zebrafish—while a Bristol-Myers Squibb Life Sciences Research Fellow in Dr. Alexander Schier’s lab, first at the Skirball Institute at the NYU School of Medicine and then at Harvard University. Dr. Rihel’s research at UCL is currently funded by the Wellcome Trust and the BBSRC, and perviously by the Alzheimer's Research UK and the European Research Council(ERC).