Our research highlights, where especially high levels of research activity and expertise are focused, cross discipline and department boundaries to generate worldclass neuroscience research.
Bristol is recognised worldwide for its research into synaptic plasticity, the process which is now widely recognised to underlie the ability of the nervous system to change, adapt and learn - in short, to perform all its many and varied tasks.
Receptors for glutamate - the brain’s main excitatory neurotransitter - were discovered in Bristol, and our current research examines their central role in synaptic plasticity, explaining functions of the nervous system and the changes in synaptic plasticity that accompany neuronal disease.
Pain is a feature of life and is essential to protect against harm. But chronic pain has no useful function and causes a great burden of suffering and cost to society as a whole. Our pain research is internationally recognised for its expertise in integrative whole-systems systems neuroscience to understand chronic pain.
We employ state of the art techniques to make interventions at a molecular and cellular level and examine their functional consequences in vivo. This allows us to study the complex neural processes that underlie the detection and the perception of pain, both in health and in models of disease.
The fruits of these studies are both forward-translated towards the clinic, and also reverse-translated to make our models more representative of the clinical condition.
Motor control and movement disorders
Everyday movements such as holding a cup require orchestration of some of the most complex brain regions, the cerebellum and basal ganglia. Disruption of these motor pathways causes movement disorders of which Parkinson’s disease - the second most common disease of old age - is one that affects millions worldwide.
We study the neuroscience of movement using a powerful combination of electrophysiology, pathway tracing, and computer-aided 3D reconstruction, plus mathematical modelling techniques.
In the clinic, a very active research program into improving treatments, including the neurosurgical technique of deep brain stimulation, is also back-translated to inform our understanding of basic brain biology.
Mood and mood disorders
Depression, stress, anxiety and sleep disorders - and more - stem from disturbances in mood and emotional processing. In Bristol, we tackle these disorders at all levels, using everything from cell culture and animal models to neuropsychiatric testing in humans and psychiatric epidemiological research into mental health.
To improve treatment, we are running projects to assess cognitive behavioural therapy, antidepressants, and other tools available in primary care.
At Southmead Hospital, early trials are being conducted into pioneering neurosurgical techniques to treat depression.
And our work on animal cognition and emotion directly influences welfare policies, improving domesticated animals' lives worldwide.
Vision research at Bristol addresses the higher cognitive processes of seeing; how we interpret raw visual information from the retina to interact with the objects, people and environment around us. Bristol's strength in this field is evident by the success of the Bristol Vision Institute (BVI).
Expertise in neurophysiology, neuropsychology and techniques such as EEG, fMRI and eye-tracking are used to assess different aspects of vision, both in unimpaired individuals and patients with focal brain lesions.
Active vision and eye movement - which radically alters the nature of the visual experience - is a topic of particular interest. Further projects study basic perceptual processing, vision in fish and birds, foraging behaviour, camouflage, visual attention and memory.
Chronic neurological conditions
Brain injury and disease, more than other fields of medicine, often affect people for years, making them especially draining on a country's healthcare resources as well, of course, on the resources of family and friends.
Research in BN tackles many of the most common chronic neurological conditions. Multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders, the neural basis of hypertension, and the physical and mental disabilities that result from oxygen deprivation at birth; the cost of all these and more will be lessened by the increased understanding and improved therapies resulting from our work.
Severe acute brain injury
Severe acute brain injury may result from trauma, stroke, inflammation or infection. While the primary injury often cannot be modified the cascade of subsequent events provides opportunities to intervene and limit secondary injury with the potential for minimising harm and maximising recovery.
The neuro-critical care unit at Southmead Hospital works with neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists and neurophysiologists to deliver these interventions. There is multidisciplinary support for clinical research to drive developments in neuro-critical care in the setting of one of the largest units in the country.
Within the unit we have particular interest in trauma and stroke management, both pre-hospital and in critical care, and in developing research themes exploring trauma outcomes, nutritional neuroprotection, autonomic modulation, microbial ecology and the microbiome, and endothelial function after brain injury.