Dr Alan Watson

Dr Alan Watson

Reader

School of Biosciences

Email:
watsona@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 5156
Fax:
+44 (0)29 2087 4486
Location:
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Media commentator

Research overview

Current research in the lab is focused on various aspects of spinal cord circuitry. This includes presynaptic inhibition of sensory neurones and the effect of ageing on pathways that control the lower pelvic viscera and pelvic floor. The latter is directed at changes in the central and peripheral components of autonomic visceral innervation, the somatic innervation of the pelvic floor, and the descending pathways that control them.

I am also involved in public engagement in science. My particular interest is in providing courses for musicians on the biological principles underlying performance and performance-related injury. This also includes research projects into respiration in musicians. My book on the Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury was published in 2009.

This work received a Maximising Impact Award from the School in 2010.

Reviews of the book

"The best book in its field yet to be published … highly recommended for those in any discipline who are committed to the performance health of musicians. Besides being a pleasure to read, the book is a scholarly work …... a unique and outstanding book that readers will find to be good reading as well as informative. Unquestionably, it belongs in the libraries of all universities where music is taught and in music conservatories…. should be required reading for instrumental and vocal teachers alike, whereas for those concerned with the medical well-being of musicians it is a near encyclopaedic source of information applicable to patient care, both preventive and therapeutic." 2010, Music Reference Services Quarterly

"This may be the book that many readers have been waiting for . . . it attempts to bridge the chasm, more often successfully than not, between the scientist/health care professional and the musician. . . . The author's writing is straightforward and clear. . . . Overall, I can highly recommend The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury." March 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association

"As a one-stop introduction to understanding the sources of strain, stress and injury, and useful techniques to avoid or ameliorate them, this book proves to be a impressively detailed yet accessible and useful resource. This book has much to offer every active musician and those who teach them" May 2009, Classical Music

Public engagement

I have a strong involvement in public engagement activities related to music biology and music medicine. I run a module on Biology for Musicians at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and have given presentations at venues such as the DANA centre of the London Science Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the National Museum of Wales, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Wrexham Science Festival, Cardiff Science Café, Bath Clinical Society, Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition, British Flute Society Convention, Cheltenham Music Festival, Royal College of Music and at music education and music medicine conferences. I also give regular seminars for the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine and am involved in a new postgraduate Performing Arts Medicine degree at University College London.

Alan Watson and Kevin Price of RWCMD discuss one of their collaborative projects on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlRSf_dCod8&feature=plcp

After completing a degree in Zoology at Edinburgh University, I carried out my PhD on biogenic amine containing neurons of the teleost brain and autonomic innervation of the visceral organs, at the Gatty Marine lab of St. Andrews University. I then spent 9 years at Cambridge University with Malcolm Burrows, investigating the nature and distribution of synapses on identified neurones in the locust central nervous system. During this period I held a Beit Memorial Fellowship and was ultimately was supported by my own MRC grant. I was appointed to a lectureship in Anatomy in Cardiff in 1989 and became a senior lecturer in 1995.

Projects

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.

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.

Areas of expertise

Images

Research links