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Dr Alan Watson  -  PhD


Axon terminals of a slow-adapting cutaneous mechanoreceptor in the dorsal horn of the lumbar spinal cord.

Axon terminals of a slow-adapting cutaneous mechanoreceptor in the dorsal horn of the lumbar spinal cord.

The synaptic basis of presynaptic inhibition

In vertebrates and invertebrates, the constant barrage of sensory input entering the central nervous system must be controlled so that it produces contextually relevant responses that are compatible with ongoing behaviour. The most direct form of control is exerted through presynaptic inhibition of sensory afferent terminals. Current research is concerned with analyzing the nature of the synaptic interactions of proprioceptive and mechanoreceptive sensory afferents in the spinal cord. Physiologically characterised sensory neurones are impaled with intracellular microelectrodes and labelled intracellularly for electron microscopy. Neurotransmitters in axons and dendrites in contact with afferent terminals are identified by immunocytochemical methods and the distribution of their synaptic contacts is displayed using computer aided reconstructions of serial sections. Previous work in the lab has examined sensory afferent terminals in the invertebrate nervous system and this continues in collaboration with groups in Bordeaux and Berlin. This has revealed that similar principles of afferent control operate in both vertebrates and invertebrates though with some differences in the transmitters involved.

Ageing on spinal autonomic circuitry

In collaboration with Dr RM Santer of the School of Biosciences, this work examines the effect ageing on the control of the lower pelvic viscera, particularly the urinary tract. Our previous studies have focused on age-related changes in the properties of the spinal circuitry controlling autonomic neurones. We are currently examining age-related changes in the expression of receptors for steroid hormones, growth factors and neurotransmitters on preganglionic and autonomic neurones and in motorneurones innervating the pelvic floor.

Sites of synaptic contact with axons and dendrites.

Sites of synaptic contact with axons and dendrites.

Co-Workers and Collaborators

Dr R.M. Santer 
Cardiff

Dr Richard Ranson 
Cardiff

Hannah Shaw 
Cardiff

Kevin Price 
RWCMD

Buddug James 
RWCMD

Other Interests

I collaborate with Kevin Price (Head of Brass) and Buddug Verona James (Vocal Performance Dept.) at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on research projects on respiration in wind players and singers, and instrumental ergonomics. These allow science and music students to work together to study physiology in a vocational context.