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Professor Emma Robinson

Professor Emma Robinson

Professor Emma Robinson
B.Sc., Ph.D.(Bristol)

Professor of Psychopharmacology

Area of research

Neural and neurochemical mediators of behaviour and their role in psychiatric disorders

Office D5
Biomedical Sciences Building,
University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 331 1449


Work in our laboratory uses behavioural studies alongside neuropharmacological and neurochemical approaches to study the role of specific neural and neurochemical systems in the control of behaviour. We are particularly interested in developing novel models, that can be also be used in humans, to study the cause and treatment of psychiatric conditions where emotional changes are an important feature e.g. depression and anxiety. In addition, our work is also relevant to other psychiatric conditions including drug addiction, schizophrenia and ADHD.

The majority of our research uses operant and non-operant methods to assess particular aspects of behaviour such as emotional behaviour, attention, behavioural control and decision making.

Animal models of emotional behaviour are limited in terms of their relevance to human psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. We have now developed a number of translational models which replicate symptoms associated with cognitive affective behaviour. For example, have developed an exciting new method for rodents which exhibits Face, Construct and Predicitive validity and provides a quantitative measure of both antidepressant and pro-depressant manipulations in animals. We have used a judgement bias task to test how both animal and human subjects respond to emotional stimuli and ambiguous stimuli under different affective states. This work adds to a growing literature showing that animal and human judgement and decision-making is influenced by their affective state.

These novel behavioural methods are used in combination with pharmacology and/or genetic approaches to manipulate specific neural and neurochemical processes to test specific hypotheses relating to the cause and treatment of different pscyhiatric disorders.

The laboratory uses a wide range of techniques to compliment the behavioural procedures including receptor autoradiography (see figure right) and immunocytochemistry to quantify the expression and distribution of receptors in the brain. Neurochemical experiments using microdialysis facilitate quantification of brain transmitters whilst genetic approaches such as antisense technology and viral-mediated gene transfer are used to alter the expression and/or function of target proteins in the brain.

Activities / Findings

  • Development and testing of novel approaches to measure affective state
  • Affective bias testNeural circuitry, sex differences and hormonal regulation involved in affective biases
  • New insights into possible neuropsychological mechanisms in depression and drug-induced antidepressant and pro-depressant effects
  • Molecular mechanisms underlying rapid onset antidepressant efficacy
  • Neurogenesis in the hippocampus
  • Reward processing and emotional responses related to apathy related behaviour in aged rodents
  • Molecular underpinnings of biological rhythm disruption
  • Social buffering pheromones and how they might be utilised in animal welfare 
  • Neural activation following exposure to social buffering pheromones
  • Characterisation of noradrenergic mechanisms in attention and impulse control

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  • BSc Pharmacology Level 1, 2 and 3
  • MBChB - Central nervous system
  • 2nd and 3rd BVSc
  • 2nd BDS
  • Animal Behaviour unit, Langford


  • Affective state biases
  • Aging
  • Anhedonia
  • Animal welfare
  • Attention
  • Decision-making
  • Depression
  • Early life stress
  • Emotions
  • Mathematical modelling
  • Motivation
  • Olfactory
  • Stress
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Reward
  • Translational animal models


  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Apathy and aging
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parkinson's disease

Processes and functions

  • Ambiguous cue interpretation
  • Biological rhythms
  • Cognitive affective biases
  • Developmental reprogramming by stress
  • Learning and memory
  • Neurobiology of emotions
  • Odorant Receptor (OR)37 subsystem
  • Regulation of behaviour
  • Reward processing
  • Psychopharmacology of emotional behaviour


  • Behavioural: Affective bias test; Operant behaviour and touchscreens: Probabilistic Reversal Learning task - Judgement Bias task - Effort for Reward task - Rapid Serial Visual Presentation task
  • Behavioural analysis and video tracking
  • Human behavioural testing
  • Automated blood sampling
  • Ex-vivo electrophysiology
  • In vivo electrophysiology (local field potentials)
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Optogenetics
  • Neural dissociation and FACs sorting
  • RNA sequencing
  • Computational modelling; Python; Matlab


Selected publications

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Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Prof Richard Apps - Department of Physiology Pharmacology & Neuroscience - University of Bristol

  • Dr Peter Brennan – Department of Physiology Pharmacology & Neuroscience – University of Bristol

  • Dr John Crosby – Department of Chemistry - University of Bristol

  • Dr Jeffery Dalley - Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute - Department of Experimental Psychology - University of Cambridge

  • Prof Dominic Dwyer – School of Psychology – University of Cardiff

  • Prof Iain Gilchrist – Department of Experimental Psychology – University of Bristol

  • Prof Jeremy Hall – Neurosciences & Mental Health Research Institute – University of Cardiff

  • Dr Bastian Hengerer – CNS Diseases - Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH & Co. KG

  • Dr Conor Houghton – Department of Computer Science – University of Bristol

  • Dr David Kessler – Bristol Medical School – University of Bristol

  • Prof Stafford Lightman – MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity – University of Bristol

  • Dr Hugh Marston – Translational Neuroscience – Eli Lilly

  • Prof Jack Mellor – Department of Physiology Pharmacology & Neuroscience – University of Bristol

  • Prof Mike Mendl - Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group - School of Veterinary Sciences - University of Bristol

  • Prof Marcus Munafo - Department of Experimental Psychology - University of Bristol

  • Prof David Nutt - Psychopharmacology Unit - Bristol

  • Prof Trevor Robbins - Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute - Department of Experimental Psychology - University of Cambridge

  • Dr Adam Perkins – Department of Psychological Medicine – Kings College London

  • Prof Lawrence Wilkinson – Neurosciences & Mental Health Research Institute – University of Cardiff

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