Richard Morris

Richard Morris is Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems (CCNS) at the University of Edinburgh.

For more than 20 years my lab has studied how the brain makes, keeps and loses memories. Now we are expanding our research to a new but related field that will focus on autism spectrum disorders.

SYSTEMS AND CIRCUITS – EXPLORING THE NEURAL BASIS OF BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS
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My lab is developing new tools to examine normal and disordered cognitive function in animal models of Fragile-X.These include tests of social hierarchy, social interaction and associative memory. This photograph shows a rat performing one of the associative tasks in which it must learn the location where a specific foodstuff has been hidden in a sandwell.

One of the great challenges of contemporary neuroscience has been to understand how memories are made, kept and lost.

The over-arching goal of our research is to develop a neurobiological account of the functions of the hippocampal formation in memory, with the focus being on the impact impact of subcortical neuromodulatory inputs on memory encoding and consolidation using pharmacological and optogenetic techniques. We also look at the interactions between the hippocampus and neocortex in systems consolidation and the acquisition of knowledge.

Over a number of years the main developments and discoveries of my lab have been the watermaze, the role of NMDA receptors in spatial learning and the codevelopment with colleagues in Georgia, of the synaptic tagging and capture hypothesis of long-term potentiation.

More recently, we have expanded our research to study animal models of autism spectrum disorders. Relatively little animal work has been carried out to examine the severe social behavioural problems that are reported in ASDs.

Given this, we are currently carrying out and, if possible, developing improved tests, which look at social relationships between animals as a further way of trying to better characterise the phenotype of ASD and FXS in animal models.

These tests will look at competition between animals — as in a hierarchical system — and we will also study how animals cooperate with one another. Our goal in this work is to devise tests that are quantitatively rigorous as well as relevant. They need to report on the interaction between animals in the specific circumstances of competition and cooperation.

One of our key collaborators in this endeavour is Sumantra Shona Chattarji in Bangalore. His lab at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) looks at the neural basis of emotional problems in FXS and autism spectrum disorders in the brain’s emotional hub — the amygdala.

Email: Richard.G.M.Morris@ed.ac.uk

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