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Professor Tony Pickering

Professor Tony Pickering

Professor Tony Pickering
B.Sc., Ph.D., MB ChB (Birm), F.R.C.A.

Professor of Neuroscience and Anaesthesia

Honorary Professor of Bristol Medical School (THS)

Area of research

Mechanisms of endogenous pain control and autonomic regulation

Office E27a
Biomedical Sciences Building,
University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 331 2311


As an anaesthetist and pain clinician I am naturally interested in sensory and autonomic neuroscience.  The nervous system has evolved sophisticated means to monitor and respond to changes in both the internal and external environment and these homeostatic processes are critical for health and survival of the organism. My laboratory studies the central control mechanisms regulating the discriminative and output responses to natural stimuli.

We focus on how the sensory and autonomic systems exhibit plastic changes in pathological conditions such as in chronic pain states (control of central sensitisation) and hypertension (altered autonomic rhythmogenesis). For these conditions to persist there is a failure or limitation in the normal central neural compensatory mechanisms, many of which share overlapping circuitry within the brainstem. 

The current focus of much of our work is upon central neuromodulator systems that regulate pain perception including noradrenaline and opioids.  Our group uses both cellular and systems neuroscience approaches (patch clamp recording, viral vectors, optogenetics, in vivo/in situ electrophysiology and behavioural testing) along with complementary clinical investigations (involving quantitative sensory testing and human imaging).

The overall goal of our work is to provide a better understanding of these neural dysfunctions, which may be either primary or permissive factors in diseases, with a view to identifying novel treatment targets.


Tony Pickering is an expat Geordie Anaesthetist with a research focus on Pain and Autonomic control.  His undergraduate Medical training in Birmingham was interrupted by the Award of a Wellcome Prize PhD studentship in the lab of Steve Logan which spawned his interest in sympathetic neurophysiology.   After graduating in Medicine he trained in Anaesthesia in London and Bristol before establishing his research lab in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience at Bristol while funded as a Wellcome Trust Clinical research fellow. His group studies the brainstem and spinal cord circuits that modulate pain perception and bodily homeostatic control.  Much of the current work is on neuromodulation with a focus on Noradrenaline and its long range influences on pain perception.  He leads the academic foundation program in Severn and the INSPIRE program for Medical and Dental students.  He continues to practice as a consultant Anaesthetist and Pain clinician. The goal of his research activity is to identify new targets and methods for therapeutic intervention.

Activities / Findings


  • Augmenting descending Noradrenergic tone can suppress neuropathic sensitisation
  • Functional loss of noradrenergic anagesia in neuropathic pain
  • Selective optogenetic activation of the locus coeruleus has bidirectional effects on nociception
  • Increased excitability of sympathetic preganglionic neurones in hypertension : role in generation of high blood pressure
  • Sympathetic preganglionic neurons have dichotomous integrative properties specialised for their functional roles.
  • Mechanism for dexmedetomidine analgesia before sedation Read more >


Organiser for Pain neuroscience module teaching (Intercalating Medics and Year III scientists).

Somatosensory and Pain Neuroscience lectures for Year II Medics

Co-ordinate teaching for academic foundation program

Vocational anaesthetic/pain teaching (undergraduate and postgraduate Medics).


  • Pain
  • Autonomic control
  • Spinal cord
  • Brainstem
  • Nociception
  • Analgesia
  • Sympathetic
  • Parasympathetic
  • Electrophysiology


  • Complex regional pain syndromes
  • Shingles
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Phantom limb pains
  • Post-stroke pain
  • Hypertension.

Processes and functions

  • Endogenous analgesia
  • Homeostasis
  • Sensory processing


  • Opto- and chemo-genetics
  • viral vectors
  • In situ perfused preparations
  • nerve and extracellular recordings
  • whole cell patch clamp
  • human imaging (fMRI and PET)

Selected publications

Read more >

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • University of Bristol:
  • Dr Nina Balthasar
  • Prof. Alan Champneys
  • Dr Marcus Drake
  • Dr Matt Jones
  • Prof. Bridget Lumb
  • External:
  • Dr Hidemasa Furue (Japan)
  • Prof. Andrew Randall (Exeter)
  • Dr Eric Kremer (France)
  • Prof. Robin McAllen (Australia).

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