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Dr Simon Butt

Associate Professor/University Lecturer in Neuroscience

Tutorial Fellow in Neuroscience

Welcome

A warm welcome to my Keble webpage! Whatever has brought you to this particular page I hope you take some time to explore the whole site – Keble is a very diverse and vibrant community. I hope some of the information on the other pages will stimulate, even surprise you, and ultimately give you a sense of the uniqueness of this College.

My primary role in Keble is to mentor and encourage the dreams and aspirations of the large number of undergraduates and graduates pursuing medical and biomedical courses. I have some experience of what they are going through having undertaken the same journey of intellectual and social discovery a number of years ago. In the intervening time I have travelled the world (5 countries, 6 research institutes) pursuing my research goals – which are explained in more detail below. I hope it piques your interest.

Neuroscience research is hurtling forward at a great speed and often the concepts that researchers in the field take for granted have only been common knowledge in the last few years – the tenets of my field were discovered at the start of the millennium; the first direct evidence for such a mechanism acting in the our forebrains published in 2008. While this is a source of excitement and wonder, we should be mindful to engage with the broader public and disseminate this newfound knowledge in a clear and accessible manner, beyond our often limited horizons. We are so easily constrained in our outlook by a world dictated by results and checklists. While the latter are of course important, they are not in themselves the best foundation necessary to become a top class, innovative medical/biomedical practitioner of the future (most of the world’s foremost neuroscientists started out as physicists and chemists). As such I would encourage the students of today (regardless of age) to become enthusiasts and ‘reasonable adventurers’ (Hill, 1964) in an environment that delights in discovery.

Research Interests

Our brains are fundamental to our very nature - governing processes such as learning, memory and language, and central to these actions is a huge array of cells whose diversity has proven to be an obstacle to our understanding of brain function and conversely dysfunction. At present we define two broad categories of nerve cell in the forebrain: excitatory pyramidal cells, and local inhibitory nerve cells termed interneurons. Although the latter form only a minor component of the total number of cells in the brain, they are critical to normal function and deficits in their action have been implicated in a range of neurological conditions including schizophrenia and autism. Our approach is to harness the power of genetics to interrogate the contribution of interneurons to emergent brain activity. The purpose: to gain an understanding of the simple, early brain that will not only establish a set of ground rules for the more complex mature brain, but also provide the foundation for a better understanding of interneuron-related neurological conditions. This approach has proven hard to pursue in the past due to the dynamic nature of the developing brain and the difficulty in targeting specific cells. To overcome this, we take advantage of genes crucial for cell identity. Our recent findings have revealed that the fate of a cell is specified early on in the embryo in response to a genetic code, which acts through a cascade of checkpoints to generate the diversity present in the adult. We have begun to crack this code and are now able to pinpoint where and when interneuron subtypes are born. Furthermore we can use the code to identify the same cells time and time again, and thereby target our research more effectively. We hope to use our strategy to follow discrete cohorts of cell, unravel their contribution to early brain function and reveal how and when these cells are directed to assume a particular role. By resolving this we will have the cornerstone to probe the newborn brain further and understand how a simple layer of cells in the embryo matures into the amazingly complex adult brain.

Recent Publications

Academic Biography

  • University Lecturer in Neuroscience (2010 - present)
  • Lecturer in Molecular Neuroscience (Imperial College London) (2007 - 2010)

College Contact Details

Dr Simon Butt
Keble College
Oxford
OX1 3PG
UK
Telephone: 01865 272727
Fax: 01865 272705
Email:

Faculty/Dept. Information

Dept. of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, Le Gros Clark building, South Parks Road, OX1 3QX

Website:
http://www.dpag.ox.ac.uk/about-us