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Department of Zoology

Development of neural networks & reactive oxygen species signalling in the nervous system

We are interested in understanding the rules and tools that nature uses to allow nervous systems to develop and coordinated function to emerge. As an experimental model, we work with the locomotor network of the Drosophila larva, which generates rhythmic crawling movements.

Drosophila has been extremely influential for our understanding of nervous systems, from neurogenesis to learning and memory. Drosophila brings many advantages: we can work with identified neurons to which we can return time and again; and target genetic manipulations to any nerve cell of choice, whose growth we can image and whose properties we can measure using electrophysiology.

In collaboration with Sean Sweeney at the University of York, we have been exploring how reactive oxygen species, a hallmark of ageing and neurodegenerative conditions, affect neuronal properties, growth and connectivity. We discovered a different face of reactive oxygen species, namely as metabolic signals that: i) inform neurons of their activity levels and  ii) regulate adaptive adjustments via highly conserved redox sensors and downstream signalling pathways (Oswald et al., 2018). Moreover, when active, neurons generate reactive oxygen species also to inform neighbouring cells, as plasticity signals within the local community (Dhawan et al., 2021).

In collaboration with the Richard Baines lab, University of Manchester, we are investigating molecular, cellular and circuit mechanisms of critical periods of network development. It is during these late phases of nervous system development that nerve cell properties are specified, allowing network function to emerge. We are studying the signals that nerve cells/networks use to assess their status quo. We are investigating the mechanisms that initiate change during the critical period, and mechanisms that subsequently maintain the newly set cellular properties during later life.

Ongoing Projects 


Richard Baines (Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester)

Jimena Berni (University of Sussex)

Albert Cardona (Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge)

Jan Felix Evers (Centre for Organismal Studies Heidelberg, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg)

Gregory Jefferis (MRC-LMB, Cambridge; Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge)

Timothy O’Leary (Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge)

Tony Southall (Imperial College London)

Sean Sweeney (Department of Zoology, University of York)

Jelle van den Ameele (MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge)

Marta Zlatic (Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge)


If you are interested in joining our group, please e-mail Matthias Landgraf to discuss research projects and positions/lab space. We have been successful in obtaining support for promising scientists and are happy to help.