Professor Frank Sengpiel FLSW, DPhil Oxon

Professor Frank Sengpiel FLSW, DPhil Oxon

Head of Neuroscience Division, Professor of Neuroscience

Email:
sengpielf@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44(0) 29 2087 5698
Location:
Sir Martin Evans Building

Research Overview

We study the mechanisms of normal development of the primary visual cortex (V1) and the physiological and molecular basis of common developmental disorders of vision such as amblyopia (lazy eye). Specifically, we examine the effects of various rearing regimens on the two principal response characteristics of neurons in V1, binocularity and orientation selectivity.
 
Research over the past 20 years has identified a large number of molecules and pathways that are involved in developmental plasticity as well as in the regulation of the critical period during which the cortex is particularly susceptible to being shaped by sensory experience and indeed requires appropriate experience to develop normally. Glutamate receptors and their downstream signalling pathways play a key role in synaptic plasticity. Gene defects affecting some of the associated postsynaptic proteins have been shown to cause neurodevelopmental disorders (also known as synaptopathies) such as Fragile X. We study developmental plasticity in V1 in models of those disorders using functional brain imaging methods, namely optical imaging of intrinsic signals and two-photon laser scanning microscopy.

Public Engagement

I am the academic lead for public engagement of the Neuroscience & Mental Health Research Institute. Among other things, I have instigated the participation of Cardiff University in the annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW) and have talked on BBC Radio Wales about the brain in the run-up to this event. I have organised an annual public lecture in neuroscience since 2010. I also take part in the annual "Learn about Life" event aimed at primary school children. Finally, I have initiated participation in the international Brain Bee competition (aimed at senior secondary school pupils, GCSE to A level), for which the first Welsh championship was held in 2011.
 
The biggest event in 2013 and 2014 has been the Brain Games held at the National Museum during BAW. The Brain Games – originally funded by a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science award - is a competitive event aimed at 8-11 year olds, where children collected points for taking part in a number of brain-related activities that showed an aspect of the brain studied at Cardiff. Prior to the event, we ran assemblies in 6 local primary schools, and launched a 'brain art' competition the winner of which was chosen by the public at the Brain Games. We are now planning to repeat the Brain Games in March 2015, and to take our assembly to every primary school in the Cardiff area.

Division

Neuroscience

  • Diploma in Biology, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany (1989)
  • DPhil in Physiology, University of Oxford (1994)
  • Junior Research Fellow, Magdalen College, Oxford (1993-1996)
  • Research Fellow, Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Munich (1996-2000)

We study the mechanisms of normal development of the primary visual cortex (V1) and the physiological and molecular basis of common developmental disorders of vision such as amblyopia (lazy eye). Specifically, we examine the effects of various rearing regimens on the two principal response characteristics of neurons in V1, binocularity and orientation selectivity.

The primary visual cortex (V1) is one of the most extensively studied areas of the mammalian brain. For a long time, the issue of "nature versus nurture" has been of particular interest: to what extent is the way we see the world determined by intrinsic factors such as our genes, and how far are our visual abilities shaped by the environment, that is by our own visual experience during the so-called critical period?

 We visualize cortical activity by means of "optical imaging of intrinsic signals", and we image activity at the level of individual neurons by two-photon laser scanning microscopy. We can thus assess ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in response to monocular deprivation (above) and postnatal refinement of retinotopic maps in V1 (below).We visualize cortical activity by means of "optical imaging of intrinsic signals", and we image activity at the level of individual neurons by two-photon laser scanning microscopy. We can thus assess ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in response to monocular deprivation (above) and postnatal refinement of retinotopic maps in V1 (below).

We visualize cortical activity by means of "optical imaging of intrinsic signals", and we image activity at the level of individual neurons by two-photon laser scanning microscopy. We can thus assess ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in response to monocular deprivation (above) and postnatal refinement of retinotopic maps in V1 (below).

Two-photon imaging: retinotopy

We are investigating the molecular basis of normal as well as abnormal visual cortical development. Glutamate receptors and their downstream signalling pathways are known to play a key role in synaptic plasticity. We have recently studied the role of the AMPA receptor subunit GluR1 (the loss of which results in LTP/LTD deficits) in the developmental plasticity of mouse V1. We also discovered a significant strain difference in OD plasticity between two common used strains of C57BL/6 mice (Ranson, Cheetham, Fox & Sengpiel, PNAS 2012 ).

A number of postsynaptic density proteins and downstream signalling molecules have been found to be associated with a range neurodevelopmental disorders sometimes called synaptopathies. Perhaps the best-known of these is Fragile X which is caused by a loss-of-function mutation in the FMR1 gene which codes for the protein FMRP and constitutes the most common single-gene cause of autism. Another is non-syndromic mental retardation caused by mutation of the DLG3 gene which codes for SAP-102, a membrane-associated guanylate kinase that forms part of the NMDA receptor complex. We are studying mouse models of these conditions in order to better understand their neurodevelopmental effects and to find ways to alleviate them. 

Active Grants

BBSRC Project Grant
Cellular mechanisms of developmental plasticity in mouse primary visual cortex

Collaborators

Prof John Aggleton, Cardiff University, School of Psychology

Dr Seralynne Vann, Cardiff University, School of Psychology

Kevin Fox, Cardiff University, School of Biosciences

James Morgan, Cardiff University, School of Optometry & Vision Sciences

Peter Kind, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Donald Mitchell, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

Research Team Members

Irina Erchova, Asta Vasalauskaite, James Tribble and Michal Milczarek

Academic Schools