Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Richard Morris

Professorial Fellow

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Sussex
Master of Arts, University of Cambridge

Professional Qualifications

Commander of the British Empire , CBE
Foreign Fellow, Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Trondheim, Norway
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Washington DC, USA
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, USA
Founding Fellow, Academy of Medical Science, London, F MedSci
Fellow, Royal Society of London, FRS
Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh, FRSE

My research in a nutshell

My primary research interest is the neurobiology of learning and memory. I seek an understanding of the functions of memory and of how it works at the level of neurons, brain systems, physiological events and transmitter receptor action. I also have an active interest in the application (i.e. translation) of concepts and techniques from this fundamental work to develop new therapeutics targeted at the cognitive disorders associated with Alzheimer's Disease.

Research Interests

The development of the watermaze:

The water maze is a hippocampus-dependent spatial learning task, now used worldwide. The translational implications are reflected in its use as a rapid behavioural assay for investigating diverse issues ranging from neural protection in experimental models of ischaemia, models of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the development of ‘cognitive enhancers’.  The watermaze played a significant role in the discovery of the effectiveness of ‘memantine’ (Merz) in Alzheimer’s Disease - now in clinical use.  Software for the use of the watermaze is now marketed by a number of companies in the USA, Europe and the Pacific-Rim, with our own software developed jointly with Dr David Ferster (Northwestern University) now marketed via both his own company (Actimetrics USA) and Harvard Instruments (USA). We have also devised modified behavioural protocols for the watermaze for transgenic mice and used these extensively in our translational research (with Elan and Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy) on the impact of immunization on cognition in Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

The role of the NMDA receptor in learning and memory:

The NMDA receptor work includes the initial discovery of the role of this receptor in memory encoding. This has been followed up others, with my own work over 20 years including numerous studies examining the behavioural, pharmacological and molecular-biological aspects of the role of the NMDA receptor in long-term potentiation and memory. We established that NMDA receptors in hippocampus are essential for memory encoding but not for retrieval using thorough pharmacological dose-response analyses.  We now have a secure understanding, supported by molecular-genetic studies, of the critical role of hippocampal NMDA receptors for ‘episodic-like’ memory encoding. Further work, partly in conjunction with Edvard and May-Britt Moser, established the general principle of the synaptic plasticity and memory hypothesis and definitive experimental tests of the hypothesis.

 

The synaptic tagging and capture hypothesis:

The work on synaptic tagging and capture addresses the issue of how the products of protein synthesis associated with synaptic plasticity are directed at synaptic sites where change has been triggered.  The idea, developed with Julie Frey (in Germany) is that long-term potentiation alters synaptic strength on a temporary basis but also sets ‘tags’ at sites where longer-lasting change may be possible.  In circumstances where the availability of plasticity-related proteins (PRPs) has been upregulated, the relevant PRPs are captured by tags at the sub-set of synapses at which potentiation is then allosterically stabilised.  We are investigating this idea in physiological, molecular, optogenetic and behavioural studies.

 

The neurobiology of prior knowledge (schemas):

There is a further step to consolidation that Dudai (Israel) and I have called ‘systems consolidation’ in which interactions occur between distinct brain areas – e.g. between allocortical regions such as the hippocampus and specific sub-regions of the neocortex (e.g. retrosplenial cortex, medial prefrontal cortex).  Psychological and computational neuroscience work on systems consolidation is extensive, but our neurobiological understanding is limited. We are now investigating the classic psychological idea of ‘schemas’ at the neurobiological level – endeavouring to bring the whole issue of activated prior knowledge into sharp focus.  This work is being conducted in collaboration with Guillen Fernandez (Nijmegen).

Research Groups

 Morris Group Members:

Dr Tomonori Takeuchi (Research Fellow)

Dr Lisa Genzel (Research Fellow)

Dr Mio Nonaka (Research Fellow)

Dr Janine Rossato (Research Fellow)

Sarah Bates (PhD student)

Adrian Duszkiewicz (PhD student)

Andrea Moreno (PhD student)

Richard Fitzpatrick (Research Assistant)

Patrick Spooner (Electronics and Computing Assistant)

Jane Tulloch (Histology Technician)

 

Visiting and Research Positions

  • 1993-present   Professor of Neuroscience, The University of Edinburgh, UK

  • 2006-present   Director, Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, The University of Edinburgh
  • 2013-present   Visiting Professor, Centre for Brain Development and Repair (CBDR), InSTEM, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
  • 2013-present   Caro Almela Professor of Neurobiology (Honorary), Institute for Neuroscience, Alicante, Spain

Teaching

  • Hons. Neuroscience degree course (Biomedical Sciences): Neurobiology of Cognition module
  • Neuroscience M.Sc course - joint course with School of Informatics (EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre for computer scientists, physicists and mathematicians interested in the brain).

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