Personal profile

Research overview

My research uses young frog tadpoles as a simple model system to study the basic neuronal mechanisms underlying motor control. Apart from basic motor reflexes, tadpoles can swim forward when touched and struggle when held, with both behaviour powered by axial muscles. They also exhibit some acute, concussion-like response when swim into solid objects. The tadpole spinal cord and hindbrain are simple and highly accessible for recordings, making it an ideal place to investigate rules that may be common to the movements of different animal species. I’m also interested in how these mechanisms mature during neural development. Our research methods include electrophysiology, calcium imaging, optogenetics, mRNA microinjections, anatomy and computer modelling.

General information on tadpoles

Recent sample projects

Older projects


Lab members

Yi Lou  PhD student funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council and the University of St Andrews.

Valentina Saccomanno   PhD student co-supervised with Dr Maarten Zwart

Dr Hong-Yan Zhang   Postdoctoral research fellow funded by BBSRC.



PhD positions: I always welcome inquiries from students with genuine research interests on potential PhD projects, which can be on either motor control or developmental plasticity. You should hold or expect to hold at least an upper second first degree in neuroscience or related subjects.

China Scholarship Council and University of St Andrews Scholarships This is suitable for students of Chinese nationality in the last year of your BSc or MSc study. The deadline of which is usually January every year. Therefore you need to contact me well in advance to discuss potential projects for your application.


Former lab members

Nicola Porter: PhD student funded by BBSRC.

Dr Peter Moult: postdoctoral research fellow funded by Wellcome Trust.

Dr Erik Svensson: postdoctoral research fellow funded by BBSRC.

Monica Wagner:  research assistant funded by BBSRC.

Dr Shiv Kumar   Postdoctoral research fellow funded by BBSRC.

Giulia Messa   co-supervised PhD student from Dr Stella Koutsikou's lab in the University of Kent.



Dr Steve Soffe and Prof Alan Roberts at the University of Bristol

Prof Roman Borisyuk at Plymouth University

Dr Joel Tabak-Sznajder in the University of Exeter

Prof Keith Sillar at the University of St Andrews

Dr Xinhua Shu: at Glasgow caledonian University

Research interests

The role of excitatory premotor interneurons in swimming rhythm generation.

Neural circuits controlling Vertebrate locomotion contain excitatory interneurons that provide the drive for rhythm generation. The properties and synaptic connections of these neurons directly affect the circuit output dynamics. The excitatory interneurons in the tadpole swimming circuit have many unique properties including firing single impulses to current injection, rebound firing, wide action potentials, relatively positive membrane potentials and electrical coupling among themselves. We are studying why these properties are needed and how they are controlled.

Neurotransmitter corelease in development

It was previously believed that neurons only used one type of conventional neurotransmitter in their transmission, but recent evidence indicates that corelease of classical transmitter in developing nervous systems can be wide spread. We recently found that some neurons in tadpole spinal cord and hindbrain released both ACh and glutamate. We are studying the significance of such corelease in development.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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