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Scanning electron microscopy image of a ragworm larva by Jürgen Berger

Scanning electron microscopy image of a ragworm larva, by Jürgen Berger

Exeter neuroscience expert secures prestigious award

A neuroscience expert from the University of Exeter has secured a prestigious Wellcome Trust Investigator Award to pioneer new research into the function of neural circuits.

Professor Gaspar Jekely, from Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, received the award to support his ground-breaking neuroscience research.

The award has been bestowed to support Professor Jekely’s five-year research project, entitled ‘Modulation of circuit dynamics by noradrenergic signalling in the annelid model Platynereis’.

The research will study the function that noradrenalin has in the nervous system of marine invertebrates.

In nervous systems, the activity of every neuron is tuned by a large number of chemical substances including noradrenalin, a molecule that promotes wakefulness and regulates heart rate and other functions in vertebrates.

Professor Jekely’s research team recently discovered noradrenalin in some marine invertebrates, including the ragworm Platynereis. The research will study the larvae of the ragworm to gain a greater understanding into noradrenergic signalling. The small size of the ragworm larvae will allow them to study noradrenergic neurons and the circuits they form at a great level of detail in a simple and fully-mapped nervous system.

Professor Jekely said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been given this prestigious award. The recent discovery of noradrenalin in marine invertebrates by my research team was a considerable breakthrough, and this award will support new research on the function of noradrenalin in a tractable invertebrate animal.

“Invertebrate model organisms have been invaluable to understand how nervous systems work and the award will also help us to consolidate Platynereis as a unique marine invertebrate model for the detailed study of nervous systems.”

The Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards were introduced in 2011 to provide additional funding for researchers who already hold academic positions. The scheme’s purpose is to give exceptional researchers the freedom they need to address the most important questions about health and disease.

Date: 8 January 2019