Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research


Neural Development, Plasticity and Repair

The Neural Development, Repair and Plasticity group is investigating how new neurons and glia arise in the embryonic and adult brain and their roles in circuit function, learning and behaviour.


Glial cell development and plasticity

Principal Investigator: Professor William D. Richardson, FLS, FMedSci FRS
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7261-2485

Oligodendrocyte plasticity and its role in learning and memory. Pools of precursor/ stem cells persist in the adult CNS. 

Some inhabit the subventricular zones (SVZ) of the forebrain where they produce new neurons for the olfactory bulb throughout life. Others reside in the hippocampus and continuously generate new hippocampal interneurons in the adult. 

Another population of neural precursor cells - adult oligodendrocyte precursors (OLPs, also known as OPCs or NG2 glia) - is scattered uniformly throughout the adult brain and spinal cord. 

We showed that NG2 glia continue to divide and generate new myelin-forming oligodendrocytes throughout adulthood in mice. 

What is the physiological role of these late-born oligodendrocytes and the myelin they produce?

Mouse embryo expressing a Pdgfra transgene (blue) in migrating neural crest cells and other stem cell populations.

Shows culture of retinal astrocytes immuno-labelled for the intermediate filament protein GFAP.

One important function of adult-born oligodendrocytes is to repair demyelinating damage following CNS injury or disease.

Our lab has shown that they also play a critical role in learning and memory formation in normal healthy mice. For example, production of new OLs is necessary for adult mice to learn new motor skills (e.g. running on a wheel with unevenly spaced rungs), or to improve their cognitive performance in a radial maze task that taxes working memory.

Working memory is a short-term, low-capacity memory system that is important for all sorts of mental tasks such as decision-making or problem solving. In humans, working memory is tightly correlated with measures of general or "fluid" intelligence. Thus, plasticity of OL lineage cells and myelin is central to learning, memory and cognitive performance.

PDFs of Richardson lab publications

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/lI1wg-wuxTE

Neuro-glia development and disease

Principal Investigator: Professor Nicoletta Kessaris
ORCiD ID: 0000-0003-1191-6009

Brain development commences in the embryo and continues well into postnatal stages as neurons and glia assume their final positions, before undergoing maturation, apoptosis, or maintaining a stem-cell-like state.

Disruptions to these developmental processes can give rise to brain disturbances and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which initiate early in life but become apparent during childhood.

Our laboratory is committed to unravelling the genetic underpinnings of forebrain neuron and glia development to understand how developmental abnormalities may contribute to NDDs.

We explore the impact of genetic mutations on the generation, specification, and maturation of neurons and glia in the forebrain, as well as the formation of cortical neuronal networks and behaviours associated with NDDs.

Employing model organisms, our research utilizes a diverse set of approaches, including in vivo loss- and gain-of-function genetic approaches, -omic technologies, electrophysiology, and behavioural analysis.

Our overarching goal is to decipher how genetics and the environment influence brain formation, ultimately shedding light on the origins and behavioural manifestations of ASD and NDDs.

Nicoletta Kessaris Lab

Section through the embryonic mouse forebrain showing expression of two genes (red and green) marking different stem cell populations.

Cellular and molecular neuroscience

Principal Investigator: Professor Huiliang Li
ORCiD ID: 0000-0002-8274-3785

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is made up of diverse types of neurons and glial cells. Glia (literally 'glue') have proven to be much more than a passive support matrix for neurons. In fact, mounting evidence indicates that glia are highly complex cells engaged in a plethora of brain activities.

Employing transgenic approaches, we aim to find answers to the following questions:

  • How do Neural Stem Cells (NSCs) choose glial versus neuronal fate? 
  • What are the molecular mechanisms behind gliogenesis?
  • What are the causes and consequences of glial dysfunction?

We are also investigating the impact of cholesterol metabolism in both healthy and diseased brains. The brain is known to have a higher cholesterol concentration (15–20 mg/g tissue) than other tissues (2 mg/g tissue on average). Cholesterol is unable to cross intact blood brain barrier (BBB) and has its metabolic machinery to regulate homeostasis.

Our research interests include:

  • The effects of disturbances in brain cholesterol homeostasis on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and aged brains.
  • The regulation of the gut-microbiota-brain axis on cholesterol metabolism in ASD, AD, and aged brains.
  • The regulation of the liver-brain axis on cholesterol metabolism in ASD, AD, and aged brains.

A subset of GFP (green) expressing astrocytes in the cortex of a transgenic mouse line. Neurons are marked by NeuN(red) and astrocytes by GFAP (blue)

A subset of GFP (green) expressing astrocytes in the spinal cord of a transgenic mouse line. Oligodendrocytes are marked by Sox10 (red) and astrocytes by GFAP (blue)

Glial cells in neural circuits

Principal Investigator: Dr Matthew Swire
ORCiD ID: 0000-0003-4294-4926

In the vertebrate brain and spinal cord, cells called "oligodendrocytes" construct an insulating layer around "axons" - long filamentous extensions of "neurons", the electrically excitable cells. This insulation, "myelin", greatly speeds up the electrical signals sent by neurons as well as providing energetic support to neurons and their axons.

Recently it has been demonstrated that oligodendrocytes and the myelin that they make also help the brain to adapt to new experiences, contributing to learning and memory formation. How exactly myelin influences learning is still not well understood.

One hypothesis is that oligodendrocytes can sense the neurons that are activated by specific behaviours, resulting in the formation or remodelling of myelin on those active neurons. We predict that this process will fine-tune electrical signals and alter the connectivity of the active neurons leading to the development of new neuronal circuits responsible for new behaviours.

Using a range of transgenic mice, we aim to determine:

  • How the myelin on activated neurons changes during learning
  • The mechanisms that may enable oligodendrocytes to sense neuronal activity
  • How changes to myelination alters neuronal connectivity.

Oligodendrocyte cells and neurons in blue, generated by AI

The Neural Development, Repair and Plasticity Group

William Richardson portrait

Prof. William Richardson
Glial cell development, plasticity & function

Prof. Nicoletta Kessaris

Prof. Nicoletta Kessaris
Neuro-glia development & disease

Prof. Huliang Li

Prof. Huiliang Li
Mechanisms of neural development

Dr Matthew Swire

Dr Matthew Swire
Oligodendrocyte development & myelination

Yi Jiang

Yi Jiang
PhD Student

Tianhao Gao

Tianhao Gao
PhD Student

Hao Hu

Hao Hu
PhD Student

Yumeng Zhang

Yumeng Zhang
PhD Student

Alexander Fudge

Alexander Fudge
Technician / PhD Student

Dr Cheng Yang

Dr Cheng Yang
Associate Staff

Yiting Feng

Yiting Feng
Visiting PhD Student

Marcus Lloyd

Marcus Lloyd
Research Assistant

Matthew Grist

Matthew Grist
Lab Manager

Interested in joining us?

The four research groups within the centre focus on neurons and glia, their interactions, and their contribution to circuit development and behaviour. If you are interested in joining us, please contact the relevant group leader.

Selected Publications

  1. Shimizu T, Nayar SG, Swire M, Jiang Y, Grist M, Kaller M, Sampaio Baptista C ... Li HRichardson WD (2023). Oligodendrocyte dynamics determine cognitive performance outcomes of working memory training in mice. Nat Commun, 14:6499.
  2. Kessaris N and Denaxa M (2023). Cortical interneuron specification and diversification in the era of big data. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 80, 102703.
  3. Wu S, Hu L, Fu Y, Chen Y, Hu Z, Li H, Liu Z (2023). Effects of Intestinal M Cells on Intestinal Barrier and Neuropathological Properties in an AD Mouse Model. Molecular Neurobiology.
  4. Kessaris N (2022). Human cortical interneuron development unraveled. Science 375 (6579), 383-384.
  5. Asgarian Z, Oliveira MG, Stryjewska A, Maragkos I, Rubin AN … Kessaris N (2022). MTG8 interacts with LHX6 to specify cortical interneuron subtype identity. Nature Communications 13 (1), 5217.
  6. Magno L, Asgarian Z, Apanaviciute M, Milner Y, Bengoa-Vergniory N, Rubin AN, Kessaris N (2022). Fate mapping reveals mixed embryonic origin and unique developmental codes of mouse forebrain septal neurons. Communications Biology 5 (1), 1137.
  7. Magno L, Asgarian Z, Pendolino V, Velona T, Mackintosh A … Kessaris N (2021). Transient developmental imbalance of cortical interneuron subtypes presages long-term changes in behavior. Cell Reports, 35 (11), 109249.
  8. Zhang G-Y, Lv Z-M, Ma H-X, Chen Y, Yuan Y, Sun P-X ... Li H, Li W (2021). Chemical approach to generating long-term self-renewing pMN progenitors from human embryonic stem cells. Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, Vol. 14, Issue 1.
  9. Ju J, Yang X, Jiang J, Wang D, Zhang Y, Zhao X ... Li H, Li N (2021). Structural and Lipidomic Alterations of Striatal Myelin in 16p11.2 Deletion Mouse Model of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 15.
  10. Swire M, Assinck P, McNaughton PA, Lyons DA, Ffrench-Constant C, Livesey MR (2021). Oligodendrocyte HCN2 Channels Regulate Myelin Sheath Length. J Neurosci. 22;41(38):7954-7964.
  1. An J, Zhang Y, Fudge AD, Lv H, Richardson W, Li H (2021). G protein-coupled receptor GPR37-like 1 regulates adult oligodendrocyte generation. Developmental Neurobiology 2021 Nov;81(8):975-984.
  2. Asgarian Z, Magno L, Ktena N, Harris KD, Kessaris N (2019). Hippocampal CA1 somatostatin interneurons originate in the embryonic MGE/POA. Stem Cell Reports 13.
  3. Swire M, Kotelevtsev Y, Webb DJ, Lyons DA, Ffrench-Constant C (2019). Endothelin signalling mediates experience-dependent myelination in the CNS. Elife 28;8:e49493.
  4. Kasuga Y, Fudge AD, Zhang Y, Li H (2019). Characterization of a long noncoding RNA Pcdh17it as a novel marker for immature premyelinating oligodendrocytes. Glia. Nov;67(11):2166-2177.
  5. Jolly S, Bazargani N, Quiroga AC, Pringle NP, Attwell D, Richardson WD, Li H (2018). G protein-coupled receptor 37-like 1 modulates astrocyte glutamate transporters and neuronal NMDA receptors and is neuroprotective in ischemia. Glia. Jan;66(1):47-61.
  6. Xiao L, Ohayon D, McKenzie IA, Sinclair-Wilson A, Wright JL, Fudge AD, Emery B, Li H, Richardson WD (2016). Rapid production of new oligodendrocytes is required in the earliest stages of motor-skill learning. Nat Neurosci, Sep;19(9):1210-1217.
  7. McKenzie IA, Ohayon D, Li H, Paes de Faria J, Emery B, Tohyama K, Richardson WD (2014). Motor skill learning requires active central myelination. Science. Oct 17;346(6207): 318-22.
  8. Young KM, Psachoulia K, Tripathi RB, Dunn S-J, Cossell L, Attwell D, Tohyama K, Richardson WD (2013). Oligodendrocyte dynamics in the healthy adult CNS: evidence for myelin remodelling. Neuron. Mar 6;77(5): 873-85.
  9. Li H, de Faria JP, Andrew P, Nitarska J, Richardson WD (2011). Phosphorylation regulates OLIG2 cofactor choice and the motor neuron-oligodendrocyte fate switch. Neuron, 69(5), 918-929.
  10. Kessaris N, Fogarty M, Iannarelli P, Grist M, Wegner M, Richardson WD (2006). Competing waves of oligodendrocytes in the forebrain and postnatal elimination of an embryonic lineage. Nat Neurosci. 9(2):173-9.

Funding and Partnerships

Grants awarded:

William Richardson (since 2013)
  • 2019-2024: Wellcome Trust Investigator Award “Adaptive myelination in learning and memory”
  • 2019-2024: Sanming collaborative project (with H. Li, J. Wood, J. Zhao, M. Häusser, D. Attwell at UCL and others at Sun Yat-sen University, Shenzhen, China)
  • 2019-2023: BBSRC Research Grant “Control of oligodendrocyte development by OLIG2 and chromatin remodelling complexes” (with H. Li, WIBR)
  • 2015-2022: Wellcome Strategic award “Functional Neuromics of the Cerebral Cortex” [with K. Harris, M. Häusser, M. Carandini, N. Kessaris (UCL), P. Somogyi (Oxford U), J. Hjerling-Leffler, M. Nilsson, S. Linnarsson (Karolinska Inst, Sweden)]
  • 2013-2019: Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, "Transcriptional control of CNS myelination in development and maturity"
  • 2012-2017: European Research Council Advanced Grant "MOTOGLIA: axoglial synapses, adult myelination and motor skills learning"
  • 2008-2013: National Institutes of Health "Cellular and genetic origins of astrocytes" (with David Rowitch, UCSF; Charles D Stiles, Harvard Med Sch; Ben Barres, Stanford U)
  • 2008-2013: Medical Research Council Programme "Stem and progenitor cells of the postnatal CNS" (with Nicoletta Kessaris, WIBR)
Nicoletta Kessaris
  • 2015-2022: Wellcome Strategic award “Functional Neuromics of the Cerebral Cortex” [with K. Harris, M. Häusser, M. Carandini, W. Richardson (UCL), P. Somogyi (Oxford U), J. Hjerling-Leffler, M. Nilsson, S. Linnarsson (Karolinska Inst, Sweden)]
  • 2016-2020: BBSRC project grant, “LHX6, MTG8 and MTG16: functions and interactions in cortical interneuron development”
  • 2017-2018: PTEN Foundation project grant “The impact of the PTENR173C point-mutation on neuronal development in mice and explanted neurons” (with B. Vanhaesebroeck, UCL)
  • 2010-2013: Wellcome project grant, “Optogenetic manipulation of interneuron development and function” (with D. Kullmann and M.K. Häusser, UCL)
  • 2008-2014: European Research Council Starting Independent Research Grant, “Migration and integration of GABAergic interneurons into the developing cerebral cortex: a transgenic approach”
  • 2008-2011: Wellcome Trust PhD studentship, “Neurogenesis in the mouse telencephalon”
  • 2008-2013: Medical Research Council Programme "Stem and progenitor cells of the postnatal CNS" (with W. Richardson (PI), WIBR)
  • 2007-2012: Wellcome Programme grant, “Diversity and function of CNS glia: a transgenic and electrophysiological approach” (with W. Richardson (PI), I. Attwell and R. Karadottir)
  • 2007-2011: MRC Capacity building PhD studentship “Biology of neural stem cells in the adult mouse forebrain: a transgenic approach”
  • 2006-2009: MRC New Investigator award “Generation of neuronal diversity in the developing telencephalon”
  • 2002-2007: MRC Programme grant, “Neural stem cells and neuroglial lineages in the central nervous system” (with W. Richardson (PI) and H.K. Smith)
Huliang Li
  • 2022-2024: BBSRC Research Grant, Co-I, Metabolic and behavioural phenotyping platform for obesity, diabetes, aging and exercise studies in mouse (BB/W020009/1 with Prof. Stefan Trapp and others)
  • 2021-2023: Royal Society Cost Share Grant, PI, Collaborative Study of the Effects of Natural Molecules on Reactive Astrocytes (IEC\NSFC\201134)
  • 2019-2023: BBSRC Research Grant, Co-PI, Control of oligodendrocyte development by Olig2 and chromatin remodelling complexes (with Prof. Bill Richardson, BB/S008934/1)
  • 2019-2022: Newton International Fellowship Grant, UK-PI, Towards CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene correction for inherited retinal disease (NIF\R1\181649 with Dr Jing An)
  • 2018-2022: BBSRC Research Grant, PI, Cholesterol esters of oligodendrocytes in developmental and ageing brain (BB/S000844/1)
  • 2018-2020: Newton International Fellowship Grant, UK-PI, Improving the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells for Alzheimer's disease treatment (NIF003\1003 with Dr Yajun Wang)
  • 2017-2019: Alzheimer's Research UK Pilot Grant, PI, Cholesterol esters in oligodendrocytes and the implications for Alzheimer’s disease (ARUK-PPG2017B-013)
  • 2016: British Council Researcher Links Grant, PI, Collaborative strategies to study myelin and fight against multiple sclerosis and other white matter diseases. (227225126)
  • 2015-2018: Newton Advanced Fellowship Grant, UK-PI, Towards rapid and efficient production of oligodendrocyte precursors from human pluripotent stem cells (with Dr Wenlin Li)
  • 2014-2017: BBSRC Research Grant, PI, Transgenic approaches to understanding astrocyte heterogeneity (BB/L003236/1)
Matthew Swire
  • 2023-2028: MRC Career Development Award, How does Adaptive Myelination Re-shape Neural Circuits During Learning? (MR/X019977/1)

Wellcome Trust logo

Logo for the European Research Council (ERC in black within a circle of orange dots)

NIH in white on a grey background, with a pointed edge to the right indicating an arrow

The logo for the URKI Medical Research Council. A quadrilateral, with 'UKRI' over navy on the left, and two teal portions on the right.

Logo for the BBSRC. Comprises of little virus symbols in blue, yellow and pink, and reads "bioscience for the future"

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Related programmes

Our members contribute to BSc and master's degrees within the Faculties of Medical Sciences and Life Sciences. We also have a long and excellent track record in providing high-quality training to undergraduate, master's and PhD students interested in the areas of neuro glia development, plasticity and disease. More than 30 PhD students have trained with us, graduated and moved on to further research positions in academia, industry and UK government positions.


We regularly visit schools to discuss careers in academia. We also host school-age children for work experience. We are proud to say that we have inspired several next-generation scientists! Contact us if you are interested in experiencing the fascinating life of a neuroscientist!

Contact details

William D Richardson PhD
Professor of Biology
Email: w.richardson@ucl.ac.uk 
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 6729 / fax +44 (0)20 7209 0470

Nicoletta Kessaris PhD
Professor of Neuroscience
Email: n.kessaris@ucl.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 6737

Huiliang Li PhD
Professor of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
Email: huiliang.li@ucl.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 6360

Matthew Swire PhD
MRC Career Development Fellow
Email: m.swire@ucl.ac.uk 
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 6797

Postal address

Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research
The Cruciform Building
University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT