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Prof Frank Sengpiel 


Telephone:+44 (0)29 208 75698
Fax:+44 (0)29 208 76328
Location:Cardiff School of Biosciences, The Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Research Overview

We study the mechanisms of normal development of the primary visual cortex (V1) and the physiological and molecular basis of common developmental disorders of vision such as amblyopia (lazy eye). Specifically, we examine the effects of various rearing regimens on the two principal response characteristics of neurons in V1, binocularity and orientation selectivity.

Research over the past 20 years has identified a large number of molecules and pathways that are involved in developmental plasticity as well as in the regulation of the critical period during which the cortex is particularly susceptible to being shaped by sensory experience and indeed requires appropriate experience to develop normally. Glutamate receptors and their downstream signalling pathways play a key role in synaptic plasticity. Gene defects affecting some of the associated postsynaptic proteins have been shown to cause neurodevelopmental disorders (also known as synaptopathies) such as Fragile X. We study developmental plasticity in V1 in models of those disorders using functional brain imaging methods, namely optical imaging of intrinsic signals and two-photon laser scanning microscopy.

Public Engagement

I am the academic lead for public engagement of the Neuroscience & Mental Health Research Institute. Among other things, I have instigated the participation of Cardiff University in the annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW) and have talked on BBC Radio Wales about the brain in the run-up to this event. I have organised an annual public lecture in neuroscience for the past 3 years. I am involved in the planning of Neuroscience Open Afternoons showcasing neuroscience and mental health research to patient groups, charities, and policy advisers. I also take part in the annual “Learn about Life” event aimed at primary school children. Finally, I have initiated participation in the international Brain Bee competition (aimed at senior secondary school pupils, GCSE to A level), for which the first Welsh championship was held in 2011.

The biggest event in 2013 has been the Brain Games held at the National Museum during BAW. The Brain Games - funded by a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science award - was a competitive event aimed at 8-11 year olds, where children collected points for taking part in a number of brain-related activities that showed an aspect of the brain studied at Cardiff. Prior to the event, we ran assemblies in 6 local primary schools, and launched a ‘brain art’ competition the winner of which was chosen by the public at the Brain Games. We are now planning to repeat the Brain Games in March 2014, and to take our assembly to every primary school in the Cardiff area.

Research Division