Neural Control Systems
Neurons use many different chemical signals to communicate information, including more than 100 different peptides. Many of these neuropeptides evoke specific and coherent behaviours and have been linked to a number of neurological disorders.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by dysfunction in three core symptom domains: speech and communication deficits, repetitive or compulsive behaviours with restricted interests, and social impairment. Studies are now beginning to bridge the insights emerging from studies of social cognition and social behaviour in animals to human research. Vasopressin and oxytocin, which in rodents are critically involved in social and sexual behaviours, have been linked to human neurological disorders including autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression and schizophrenia. Social impairment and deficits are core features of autism spectrum disorders and may be a factor in their pathophysiology. Certain components of these disorders may ultimately become targets for peptide-based therapies.
The research of the Neural Control Systems group, based in the Centre for Integrative Physiology, is focused on understanding the fundamental mechanisms by which peptides affect the functional properties of neuronal networks, and exactly how they can have apparently specific behavioural effects in health and disease. Using a multidisciplinary approach, including electrophysiology, molecular neuroanatomy, behavioural and functional studies and computational modelling, the group investigates the mechanisms of control of neuropeptide release and function, interactions between different neuropeptide modulators, and the effects of environmental factors such as stress on neuroendocrine neuron responses.