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Neuroscience and mental health

The human brain is often said to be the most complex object known to humankind, and understanding how it works and why it sometimes fails is the ultimate challenge. UCL and Birkbeck represent the largest grouping of neuroscientists in Europe. Students joining this theme will have the opportunity, for instance, to trace how individual neurons find their place as the brain develops, record and manipulate the activity of neurons, understand how animals or humans integrate sensory information to make decisions, explore the developmental and environmental factors that make some individuals vulnerable to psychiatric and neurological disorders, or devise new ways of treating such diseases. Research laboratories within the Neuroscience and Mental Health theme are distributed across all four faculties of the UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences and at Birkbeck, but many collaborations, for instance between fundamental and translational neuroscience, allow students to experience a rich diversity of methods and topics.


  • Adams, Rick

    My research interest is in using the techniques of Computational Psychiatry to understand schizophrenia and psychosis.

  • Ali, Robin

    The main focus of Robin Ali's research is the development of gene and cell therapy for the treatment of retinal disorders.

  • Attwell, David

    The Attwell lab studies neuron-glial interactions and brain energy supply, using patch-clamping, 2-photon imaging, immunolabelling and mathematical modelling techniques.

  • Barrios, Arantza

  • Barry, Caswell

  • Bendor, Daniel

    How complex sounds are encoded in auditory cortex, using electrophysiology, molecular-genetic tools, and computational tools in behaving and sleeping mice

  • Bestmann, Sven

    Our current research asks how prior information and predictions about events bias activity in the human motor system, to transform decision into actions

  • Bianco, Isaac

    The goal of our research is to understand how neural circuits control behaviour.

  • Bizley, Jennifer

  • Bloomfield, Michael

    We use multimodal neuroimaging (including PET, MRS and fMRI) alongside pharmacological, cognitive, behavioural and computational techniques. We want to understand how trauma alters brain function to give rise to symptoms, so that we can develop new interventions. We enjoy close multidisciplinary collaborations with colleagues here at UCL and other universities.

  • Bramon, Elvira

    Prof Elvira Bramon is a clinician-scientist interested in biological markers characterising psychosis and their genetic influences. She investigates cognitive, imaging and EEG biomarkers to understand how genetic variation leads to the onset of psychotic disorders. She is also interested in the pharmacogenetics of antipsychotic, antidepressant and antimanic medications.

  • Brownstone, Rob

    We use a number of approaches to study neural circuits responsible for movement in order to understand motor circuit plasticity. Our ultimate goal is to develop new strategies to improve movement and hence quality of life in people with neurological diseases and injuries.

  • Cacucci, Francesca

    The role of the hippocampus in spatial memory and navigation.

  • Chait, Maria

    Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience

  • Copp, Andrew

    Embryonic mechanisms of central nervous system development and birth defects, particularly neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Genetic factors and their interaction with folic acid.

  • Davelaar, Eddy

    Two main areas of research interest: 1) investigation of age-associated decline in cognitive function, and 2) the mechanisms that underlie successful brain training. The former involves creating theory-guided cognitive tests to detect people at-risk of developing dementia. The latter combines computational work with brain-training during which people learn to control their brain dynamics.

  • de Silva, Rohan

  • Dolphin, Annette

    How the social brain circuit develops

  • Fratta, Pietro

    How alterations of RNA localisation play a role in motor neuron disease (aka ALS)

  • Greensmith, Linda

    Our research is focused on neuromuscular disorders such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Spinal Bulbar Muscular Atrophy. We use a multidisciplinary approach, both in vitro and in vivo, to identify pathological mechanisms which we can target in animal models of neuromuscular disease.

  • Greenwood, John

    mechanisms underlying our perception of the visual world, and how this is disrupted in clinical conditions like amblyopia.

  • Holder, David

    Fast neural EIT (Electrical Impedance Tomography) enables imaging of neuronal firing in the brain over milliseconds. It permits visualisation of pathway activity using electrodes placed on or in the brain. The projects will develop its use and aid understanding of how the brain processes information in health or diseases such as epilepsy.

  • Isaacs, Adrian

    Understanding the molecular basis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), with a particular focus on the CHMP2B and C9orf72 genes.

  • Jat, Parmjit

    My research is aimed at identifying the underlying molecular basis for the finite proliferative life span and then if and how the key components are abrogated in cancer cells.

  • Jeffery, Kate

    The neural underpinnings of spatial representation and navigation in complex environments

  • Jenner, Richard

    Inhibition of oncogenic Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) with G-quadruplex RNA

  • Jepson, James

    My lab uses the fruit fly, Drosophila, to uncover pathological mechanisms underlying neurological disease, with a particular focus on epilepsy and movement disorders such as dystonia and ataxia. To do so, we combine RNA sequencing, electrophysiology, optical imaging and behavioural monitoring to examine how disease-linked mutations affect neuronal outputs.

  • Jones, Emily

    Neural sensitivity to environmental volatility in the infant brain

  • Keck, Tara

    How synaptic plasticity is implemented in the visual cortex.

  • Kennerley, Steve

    Our lab explores how the brain learns and extracts statistics to optimize behaviour. We use tasks that simulate real-world complexity, and analyse high-dimensional neural data encoding environmental features. We seek to identify the neural circuits and algorithms which support the construction of knowledge that underlies our interactions with the world.

  • Kessaris, Nicoletta

    Interneurons of the cerebral cortex: development and contribution to neurodevelopmental disorders

  • Kittler, Josef

    Neuronal and synaptic cell biology and pathology

  • Kullmann, Dimitri

    Fundamental mechanisms of synaptic transmission, neurological synaptopathies (acquired and inherited disorders of synaptic function), computational properties of small neuronal circuits, and gene therapy for epilepsy.

  • Lewis, Glyn

    Aetiology of depression and treatments of depression

  • Linden, Jennifer

    I am interested in how complex, temporally varying sounds are represented by neural activity in the auditory cortex and thalamus. I also seek to understand how brain mechanisms of hearing go awry in mouse models of human schizophrenia, tinnitus and auditory processing disorder.

  • Makin, Tamar

  • McQuillin, Andrew

    Genetics of adults with psychiatric illness and also a group of subjects with intellectual disability (ID) and mental disorders/challenging behaviour.

  • McRory, Eamon

    Our work uses experimental approaches and fMRI to investigate the neuro-cognitive mechanisms that may increase latent vulnerability to future mental health problems following childhood adversity (including threat, reward and autobiographical memory processing). IT is thought that calibration of these neurocognitive system following adversity confers short-term functional advantages but with long term costs.

  • O’Keefe, John

  • Pitceathly, Robert

    Clinical/genetic research in mitochondrial disease patients

  • Pitman, Alexandra

    I am interested in understanding risk factors for suicide in the general population and among psychiatric patients, and using this information to develop interventions to target risk factors. I conduct epidemiological analysis of routine data to test for associations between putative risk factors and outcomes such as suicide and self-harm.

  • Riccio, Antonella

    Understanding how gene expression is regulated in developing neurons

  • Rihel, Jason

    Genes and neurons that regulate sleep, using the zebrafish as a model system.

  • Robinson, Oliver

  • Rohrer, Jonathan

    Our work focuses on developing novel biomarkers for frontotemporal dementia. Our goal is to develop robust markers of disease onset and progression that can be used in forthcoming clinical trials of disease modifying therapy.

  • Schiavo, Giampietro

    The research efforts of the laboratory are focused on proving the central hypothesis that the impairment of the selectivity and/or the efficiency of long-range communication in neurons caused by defects in vesicular traffic constitutes a major pathogenic mechanism in neurodegenerative disorders.

  • Shah, Mala

    Understanding how neurons process information and communicate with each other during physiological conditions as well as patho-physiological states.

  • Sharot, Tali

    How affect (the experience of emotion) affects human cognition and behaviour in normal brain function and in affective disorders (such as depression and anxiety).

  • Smith, Kenneth

    Understanding the pathophysiological consequences of neuroinflammation in order to guide the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the relief of symptoms and protection from damage.

  • Spinazzola, Antonella

  • Steinbeis, Nikolaus

    Brain development and plasticity during childhood and how this can be impacted by laboratory devised enrichment

  • Tabrizi, Sarah

  • Volynski, Kirill

    Relationship between Ca2+ entry and vesicular exocytosis, and to probe presynaptic ion channel function in individual small presynaptic terminals.

  • Walker, Matthew

  • Ward, Nick

    Understanding how to radically improve upper limb recovery after stroke in humans.

  • Warner, Tom

    Research interests focus on understanding the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration through cell biological, neuropathological and clinical study. We model various conditions in neurons and glia derived from induced pluripotential stem cells from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disease. This allows study of cell pathogenesis and interaction in biologically relevant cell types

  • Warren, Jason D

  • Weil, Rimona

  • White, Sarah

    I'm an autism researcher at UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, studying cognitive abnormalities through behavioural and neuroimaging techniques

Theme leaders

  • Dimitri Kullmann

    My interests include synaptic transmission and its plasticity, computational properties of neuronal circuits, and mechanisms of epilepsy and other neurological disorders. The core methods are electrophysiology, pharmacology, fluorescence microscopy, computational simulations, and molecular genetic methods. Together with my collaborators I have developed experimental gene therapy for epilepsy.

  • Josef Kittler

    I am interested in understanding the contribution played by intracellular transport and membrane trafficking of channels, transporters and organelles in regulating the formation, activity and plasticity of synapses.

Current students

  • Anjali Bhat

    My research interests are in the fields of synaptic plasticity, homeostasis, Bayesian inference, interoception and neurogenetics. I am particularly interested in bridging the gap between molecular biology and abstract concepts in cognitive neuroscience. My PhD project is on homeostatic plasticity of iPSC networks in psychosis. I have also previously worked on interoception and automatic imitation in actors; copy number variants and biomarkers of schizophrenia onset; pain perception and affective touch; and Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive reserve and bilingualism in Down’s syndrome.

  • Gurvir Virdi

    I am a 4 year PhD student currently doing my rotation year. My research interest is in understanding the cellular mechanisms that contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Currently, in my first rotation I am working on axonal autophagy using a mouse model of Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia

  • Jack Andrews

    My PhD is focused on social brain development during adolescence and the reasons why this age group represents a sensitive period for sociocultural processing and the onset of mental health problems. More specifically, I am interested in the idea that adolescence represents a period of heightened sensitivity to social risk taking and am exploring questions relating to social cognition, social emotion and group behaviour. I am supervised by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Professor Nichola Raihani.

  • Karolina Farrell

    My research focuses on the role of VTA dopaminergic neurons in goal-directed navigation. Classically, these neurons have been studied during Pavlovian conditioning, and have been shown to be crucial for reward learning, which is dysregulated in many psychiatric disorders. In naturalistic scenarios, animals not only need to learn associations between cues and reward, but they need to actively find and navigate to rewards in their environment. I am therefore using virtual reality and calcium imaging to investigate how dopamine neurons function as animals navigate to rewards.

  • Rebecca Nutbrown

    I am interested in how populations of neurons functionally bind together to form neural representations of specific environments and how these neurons can be biased into forming different environmental representations or 'memories'.

  • Steffan Jones

    My lab works on understanding and curing epilepsy and my project focuses on epileptogenesis, the process by which normal neuronal activity is perturbed to allow for epilepsy to develop. I am investigating this at a cellular and network level, with consideration to how altered activity levels in the epileptogenic brain leads to maladaptive plasticity and pathological changes to how neuronal networks are structured. Hopefully novel insights into the basic pathophysiology of epilepsy will allow for novel treatment targets to be identified.

  • Tayla McCloud

    I am primarily interested in depression and anxiety in students and young people, and for my PhD will be examining the factors that predict the mental health of students. I have previously undertaken an MSc in Clinical Mental Health Sciences in the Division of Psychiatry, and in my rotation year worked with Dr James Kirkbride (Division of Psychiatry), Dr Oliver Robinson (ICN) and Prof Miranda Wolpert (Anna Freud Centre).

  • Thomas Wheatcroft

    I’m interested in why we do the things that we do, and plan to study this by engaging with the question of why mice do the things that they do. Certain visual stimuli induce certain behaviours in mice. How the mice decide which of the behaviours to engage in on the basis of the pattern of light hitting their retina is unclear. I want to develop our knowledge of the neural pathways underlying these decisions through tracing them, recording and manipulating their activity.

  • Tom Langford

    My research focuses on the development of digital rehabilitation therapies for people with language impairments (aphasia/alexia) acquired after a stroke or brain injury. I am interested in treatment personalisation, machine learning and co-design. My project is supervised by Prof Alex Leff and Prof Jenny Crinion, in collaboration with industrial partner, Ashley Peacock.

  • Yichen Qiu

    Epilepsy affects up to 60 million people worldwide, a quarter of the patients fail to manage their symptoms by medication. In epileptic brain, neural network is broadly altered and this leads to uncontrolled activities. My research aims to understand how neurons and their communications change in epileptogenesis and recurrent seizures. I want to use those insights to effectively target and modify activity threshold and restore balance.