Dr Mark Ungless
Research Fellow (Royal Society University)
Institute of Clinical Science
Tel: +44 (0)20 3313 8299
Dr Mark Ungless
The aim of our research is to understand the key principles underlying the anatomy and physiology of midbrain dopamine neurons.
Despite only numbering several hundred thousand, dopamine neurons have a crucial influence on the normal functioning of the brain and their dysfunction is implicated in several disorders. For example, selective degeneration of substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC) dopamine neurons underlies Parkinson’s disease; classical anti-psychotics are dopamine receptor antagonists, implicating dopamine hyperfunction in schizophrenia; and drugs of abuse elevate dopamine levels and induce long-term molecular changes in the dopamine system that underlie compulsive addictive behaviour. In addition, because of its central involvement in food seeking behaviour and its modulation by neuropeptides that regulate energy balance, the dopamine system is likely to play an important role in obesity.
We are using in vivo and in vitro electrophysiological techniques, combined with single-cell labelling and neuroanatomical characterisation. In addition, in collaboration with others, we complement these techniques with fMRI, computational modelling, optogenetics and genomics. We are currently focused on studying the molecular, anatomical and functional diversity of projection-specific subgroups of dopamine neurons.
Figure: Example of an individual dopamine neuron that has been labelled with neurobiotin (blue) and identified as dopaminergic (green) using immunohistochemical fluorescence. Black traces show intracellular action potentials recorded from this neuron.