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Project title: Sensory regulation of dopaminergic neurons

Primary supervisor: Professor Paul Overton

Project description: The neurotransmitter dopamine is implicated in a wide range of brain processes and dysfunction of the dopamine systems leads to severe neurological and psychiatric problems. However, the precise function of the dopamine signal is still being hotly debated. Our approach to this problem has been to study the properties of the systems which supply information to the dopamine systems, in particular those which provide sensory information. Recent evidence suggests that dopamine systems receive visual information from the superior colliculus, a relatively primitive multimodal structure in the midbrain. This has important implications for the kind of information which the dopamine signal can carry, but we’re unsure how generalizable these implications are – i.e. whether the colliculus is also the source of other sensory inputs to the dopamine systems. That said, both the colliculus and dopamine systems both respond to auditory stimuli, and hence the visual circuitry may generalise to audition. This issue will be investigated using a combination of in vivo extracellular recording and tract tracing neuroanatomy. The eventual decoding of the dopamine signal will not only shed light on important aspects of brain function but will ultimately lead to the development of new treatments for dopamine-related disorders.

Formal enquiries should be addressed to: Professor Paul Overton (p.g.overton@sheffield.ac.uk)

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