Basal Ganglia Systems Neuroscience 

We are 5 principal investigators who work on the basal ganglia – a group of nuclei in the brain most commonly considered in relation to motor control, although having a clear role to play in emotion and cognition.

Dr Enrico Bracci (Reader in Neuroscience and research group lead): Interests - Neuromodulation of striatal networks; excitatory GABA interactions; presynaptic interactions between striatal neurons.

Prof Peter Redgrave (Professor of Neuroscience): Interests - Basal ganglia anatomy and physiology.

Prof Paul G. Overton (Professor of Neuroscience): Interests - Anatomy and physiology of sensory inputs to dopaminergic neurons; effects of psychostimulant drugs on sensory processing.

Dr Liat Levita (Senior Lecturer): Interests – Factors underlying mental health and well-being throughout development; basal ganglia circuits.

Dr Tom Stafford (Senior Lecturer): Interests – Decision making; skilled motor performance; motor learning.

Our group within the Department of Psychology is recognised as an international leader in the field of basal ganglia research. The group has secured consistent funding from a wide range of sources over many years (BBSRC, MRC, Wellcome Trust, EU), whilst publishing in leading international journals. Our facilities and expertise enable us to investigate the basal ganglia using a variety of techniques, from whole cell patch clamp recording in the brain slice to fMRI studies in human subjects.

Along with the cerebellum, cortex and hippocampus, the basal ganglia constitute one of the brain´s principal processing units. Common to all is a repeating internal micro-architecture that receives input from, and provides output to functionally diverse regions of the brain. An understanding of the computational processes performed by the basal ganglia on one of its functional inputs is therefore likely to provide profound insights into how inputs from other functional systems are treated. As a consequence of their central role in normal brain function, basal ganglia dysfunction leads to a wide range of disorders, including Parkinson´s disease, schizophrenia, Tourette´s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the many forms of addiction. One of our key aims is to assist the development of more effective treatments for diseases associated with basal ganglia dysfunction by elucidating the normal functions that system subserves.

Our current research aims are to investigate:

  1. Striatal cellular microcircuits.
  2. How subcortical sensorimotor structures interact with the basal ganglia.
  3. The neural substrate underlying distractibility in attentional disorders.
  4. The role of the nucleus accumbens in aversive processes.
  5. The neurobiology of emotional development (especially during adolescence).