Professor Richard Apps

Lab Overview

The overall aim of our research is to understand the contributions the mammalian cerebellum makes to the control of goal-directed movements and defence behaviours. We use a combination of systems level anatomical, physiological and behavioural techniques to examine cerebellar contributions to behaviour.

Research Questions

We are studying the neural network basis of cerebellar contributions to motor, cognitive and emotional behaviour.

Cognitive behaviour. The cerebral cortex is thought to be especially concerned with the planning and decision-making aspects of goal-directed tasks, while the cerebellum is heavily involved in co-ordinating the desired action. An important gap in our understanding is the neural processing that occurs in these cerebro-cerebellar connections during goal-directed behaviours.

Emotional behaviour. Fundamental research into the neural networks that underlie emotional behaviour in animals will provide essential information that will inform the development of new therapeutic strategies. The relevant neural network includes limbic structures and the cerebellum. An important gap in our understanding is the neural processing that occurs in this network during emotional behaviours. This line of study includes a long-standing collaboration with Professor Bridget Lumb.

Motor behaviour. Motor adaptation is an essential form of motor learning for all types of goal-directed movement. A key unknown is the sequence of neural processing that occurs across this distributed brain network during motor adaptation.

Techniques

  • In vivo electrophysiological recording techniques in acute and chronic preparations including multi-site neural recording in awake behaving animals.
  • Behavioural testing in rodents including motor, maze-based and reaching tasks.
  • Neuroanatomical pathway mapping using axonal tracer techniques.
  • Pharmacological, optogenetic and chemogenetic manipulation of neural circuits in vivo
  • In vitro electrophysiology – cerebellar slice preparation and whole cell current clamp electrophysiology in cerebellar Purkinje cells and neurons of the cerebellar nuclei.

Impact

Our research has the aim of advancing fundamental understanding of the neural network basis of cerebellar contributions to cognitive, emotional and motor behaviours. A clearer understanding of the complex processes involved is necessary because, at present, there are few treatments available to ameliorate impairments related to cerebellar damage or dysfunction. Progress is unlikely in the absence of a clearer understanding of normal neural network function.

Selected Publications

  • Lawrenson, C.L., Watson T.C. and Apps, R. (2016) Transmission of predictable sensory signals to the cerebellum via climbing fiber pathways is gated during exploratory behavior. Journal of Neuroscience 36(30):7841-51
  • Watson TC, Cerminara NL, Lumb BM and Apps R (2016) Neural correlates of fear in the periaqueductal gray. Journal of Neuroscience 36, 50, p.12707-12719
  • Cerminara NL, Lang EJ, Sillitoe RV, Apps R (2015) Re-defining the cerebellar cortex as an assembly of non-uniform Purkinje cell microcircuits. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 16(2):79-93.
  • Koutsikou, S., Watson, T.C., Crook, J.J., Leith, J.L, Lawrenson, C.L., Apps, R. and Lumb, B.M. (2015) The periaqueductal gray orchestrates sensory and motor circuits at multiple levels of the neuraxis. Journal of Neuroscience 35:14132-47
  • Koutsikou, S, Crook, JJ, Earl, EV, Leith, JL, Watson, TC, Lumb, BM, Apps, R. (2014) Neural substrates underlying fear-evoked freezing: the periaqueductal grey – cerebellar link. Journal of Physiology. 592(Pt 10):2197-213

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system.

Funding

  • (2017-2022) Wellcome Trust PhD programme extension. Neural dynamics: from synapses to systems in health and disease. £695k
  • (2019-2021) BBSRC: Acetylcholine and cerebellar dependent motor learning. £505k
  • (2018-2019) BBSRC International Partnering Award: An Anglo-French-German consortium to understand cerebellar contributions to emotional behaviour. £17k
  • (2016-2019) BBSRC: Industrial Partnership Award. Back to front: importance of cerebro-cerebellar interactions in goal-directed behaviour. £483k
  • (2016-2019) MRC: Contributions of prefrontal-midbrain-spinal cord network dynamics to the development and maintenance of chronic neuropathic pain. £390k
  • (2015-2019) BBSRC: Role of the cerebellum in survival circuits activated by fear. £598k

Teaching

  • Second year BSc Neurophysiology lectures on supraspinal motor systems
  • Dental programme – lectures on motor system and histology practicals on CNS
  • Medical programme - lectures on spinal and supraspinal motor systems
  • Neuroscience BSc programme academic tutor
  • MSci academic tutor
  • Lead for first and second year BSc CNS circus practicals
  • Neuroscience BSc programme personal tutor

Citizenship

  • School Research Director
  • Director: Wellcome Trust Neural Dynamics PhD programme
  • Research Chair: Bristol Health Partners Movement Disorders Health Integration Team
  • University REF2021 Committee member (UoA4)
  • School Management Team
  • Faculty Promotions Board
  • British Pharmacological Society and Physiological Society in vivo training committee

Single unit recording of the simple spike and complex spike activity of a Purkinje cell.

Sensory-Motor Systems Group

Research Fellow:
Nadia Cerminara

Postdocs:
Charlotte Lawrenson
Jasmine Pickford
Robbie Drake

PhD students:
Kathryn Bennett
Henry Darch
Elena Paci
Haris Organtzidis
Rachael Stentiford
Alex Willcox

Senior Research Technician:
Rachel Bissett

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