Kevin Fox

Based at the Neuroscience Group, School of Biosciences

Research interests

We are studying plasticity in an area of the brain that processes tactile information. We record neuronal activity and measure the way sensory processing is modified by experience (experience-dependent plasticity). We can test whether particular proteins are necessary for plasticity and we have found that a major post-synaptic protein known as CAMKII is crucial for plasticity in this area of the cortex. Studies on synaptic plasticity implicate the GluR1 subunit of the AMPA channel and neuronal Nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme that makes nitric oxide are responsible for post- and pres-synaptic components of potentiation respectively.

Plasticity is often impaired in major psychiatric conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. Our studies have shown that the schizophrenia risk gene DISC1 is required during a critical period of cortical development for normal expression of adult plasticity in the barrel cortex and are now studying this in the prefrontal cortex. We are also using forward genetic approaches to discover novel molecules involved in plasticity in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health-funded Conte Centre for Plasticity and Memory, linking Cardiff University, UCLA and UCSF in a three-way collaboration. So far we have discovered two novel genes for cognitive enhancement. We are using 2-photon spine imaging to understand the relationship between structural spine plasticity and functional plasticity in these cases.

Finally, we need to understand the cortical microcircuit in order to interpret our experience-dependent plasticity studies. We are therefore pursuing optogenetic approaches to manipulate subsets of cortical and thalamic neurons during somatosensation.

Available PhD projects

  1. In vivo electrophysiological assay of the role of molecular pathways for cognitive enhancement in cortical plasticity
  2. In vivo intracellular electrophysiological assay of plasticity in layer V intrinisic burster and regular spiking cells
  3. 2-photon imaging of spine plasticity in mutants lacking specific aspects of synaptic plasticity
  4. Optogenetic analysis of intracortical pathways for plasticity in barrel cortex
  5. The role of DISC1 during critical periods of plasticity in barrel cortex and prefrontal cortex.

Research keywords

Synaptic plasticity, experience-dependent plasticity, long-term memory, cortical microcircuitry, critical periods for schizophrenia.