Understanding human triggers

Uploaded by UniversityOfBristol on 23.03.2012

My research
is all about brains. They're fascinating things
on many levels. Because our brains are so complex,
unfortunately they tend to go wrong.
So if we can understand how they work, perhaps we can fix them.
My research programme is focused on understanding
how different parts of the brain which process different types of information
- like things stored in memory -
how is that all coordinated in order to drive behaviour?
Our particular focus
is on the contribution of sleep disruption,
so in complex diseases like schizophrenia,
even simple decisions can be confounded.
We all know
that after a rough night's sleep, we tend to be a bit grumpy,
find it harder
to make sensible decisions.
There's a growing understanding
that sleep disruption and disease leads to some cognitive impairment.
If we treat sleep disruption, perhaps we can improve cognitive function.
It's not only in complex diseases like schizophrenia
that these sleep impairments manifest.
As we age, the nature of our sleep changes,
we tend to sleep in shorter bouts, in a more fragmented pattern,
and this might contribute to a decline in learning and memory function
in ageing for example.
This ageing aspect
is how our collaboration with Nina kicked off.
NINA: What I'm interested in is how the brain senses, for example,
that you've just eaten.
How does it know what the metabolic state of the body is?
How does it sense
what your energy state is?
How does it integrate all that information
and how does it then tell the rest of the body
what to do with that information?
That all goes horribly wrong in diseases like, for example, obesity
where all the sensing, integrating and adjusting of body weight,
food intake, goes wrong.
One thing that we're very interested in
is how do neurons in the central nervous system
in a particular brain structure
called the hypothalamus -
how do they pick up on the signals from the periphery to tell
"I've just stuffed myself with chocolate
and my glocose levels are incredibly high"?
Or how does it sense that
"I'm starving, I don't have enough glocose, make me eat more"
and then tells me to eat more so then I can adjust my metabolic state?
On the ageing front, one of the things that happens
is that the communication
between different brain structures breaks down, as Matt has explained.
That's where our work sort of hooks together -
where we're interested in,
from a molecular, cellular aspect of energy supply within a neuron
to neuron-to-neuron communication
and then, on another level, structure-to-structure communication
within the central nervous system.
MATT: I guess that's the joy
of a building like the medical schools -
as we have a systems-neuroscience lab like mine
next to a molecular-biology lab like Nina's,
then these kind of collaborations tend to blossom.