University of Otago.Department of Physiology.Department of Physiology.

Physiology TV

An overview of Physiology at the University of Otago.

News

13th November, 2017

Otago study could mean hope for infertile couples

Crucial new information about how the brain controls fertility has been unlocked by University of Otago researchers, with their findings just published in prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

13th November, 2017

Phenomenal success for Physiology researchers in latest Marsden funding round

Four 3-year project grants were awarded to Department of Physiology researchers in this year’s Marsden Fund - totalling over $3.8M.

25th October, 2017

Charlotte Steel, BSc (Hons) NEUR student in the Department has gained a Cambridge Rutherford Memorial PhD Scholarship

Our congratulations to Charlotte who is currently completing a BSc (Hons) degree in Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology with supervisor Assoc Prof Phil Sheard.

8th September, 2017

PhD student wins two awards at Queenstown Research Week

Congratulations to Mauro Silva, PhD student in the Department of Physiology. Mauro is supervised by Dr Rebecca Campbell.

8th September, 2017

Triennial Medal awarded to Professor Colin Brown

Congratulations to Colin who as been chosen by the Physiological Society of NZ (PSNZ) to be the recipient of the NZ Triennial Medal.

PhD Programme.

News

13th November, 2017

Phenomenal success for Physiology researchers in latest Marsden funding round

Four 3-year project grants were awarded to Department of Physiology researchers in this year’s Marsden Fund - totalling over $3.8M.

University of Otago researchers gained ~$24M for 33 world-class research projects - the University’s most successful round ever. Congratulations to the following staff from the Department of Physiology:

Dr Rebecca Campbell, Physiology
Androgen excess and the female brain ($960,000)
Female androgen excess is a distressing issue for a large number of women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Our current knowledge of androgen signalling in females is sorely lacking and very little is understood about the potentially critical role that androgen actions have in the female brain. This study will employ new transgenic model approaches and the latest generation of clinically relevant drug therapies to dissect out specific androgen actions in the brain and body throughout female development. We are proposing here to silence androgen signalling in specific developmental windows and in specific tissues and cell types to assess the role of androgen actions in both normal fertility and in states of female androgen excess such as PCOS. The outcomes of this proposed series of experiments will ultimately provide valuable new knowledge on the forefront of basic research aimed at understanding PCOS and steroid hormone signalling in the female brain.

Dr Jeffrey Erickson, Physiology (Assoc Investigators Drs Regis Lamberts & Livia Hool)
NO Heart: A novel mechanism for modulating cardiac calcium by nitric oxide. ($937,000)
Nitric oxide (NO) is a key mediator of Ca2+ handling and cellular signaling in the heart, but the targets of NO that coordinate its cardiac effects are largely unknown. Our group recently identified a new target for NO regulation of cardiac physiology, Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII activation has broad impact on cardiac physiology, including increasing Ca2+ flux, lowering the threshold for Ca2+ entry, and increasing developed pressure. Our work demonstrated that CaMKII can be both activated and inhibited by NO via a pair of parallel mechanisms that result in nitrosylation of two residues (C273 and C290). Moreover, regulation of CaMKII activity by NO directly impacted Ca2+ handling in myocytes by altering the amount of Ca2+ release from internal stores. In this project, we will determine three critical functional consequences of NO-dependent CaMKII activity: 1) the effects on cellular Ca2+ handling and arrhythmogenic Ca2+ leak in myocytes, 2) the effects on Ca2+ entry into myocytes to initiate contraction, and 3) the effects on whole heart function. With this work, we hope to establish a new mechanism by which NO controls cellular and whole heart function, which would provide novel insight into the physiological and pathological processes that underlie cardiac performance.

Professor Brian Hyland, Physiology (Assoc Investigator Dr Rebecca Campbell)
Defining the brain circuits that interface hunger state with reward signalling to guide food consumption. ($959,000)
Food intake is driven by both by metabolic state, and by the rewarding nature of food and food-associated stimuli. Signals about metabolic state are carried to the brain from the stomach and fat stores by hormones including ghrelin and leptin. Reward signals are processed in the brain by specific circuits. The exact linkages in the brain that enable these processes to be integrated are not fully understood. We will investigate a pathway involving the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVT) that may be key. We will determine if PVT receives information from the brain region where these hormones initially act. Second, we will establish if PVT is positioned to integrate this with information about signals associated with food. Third, we will determine if PVT is appropriately connected to pass this information to structures involved in regulating behavior. To achieve these goals we will combine single neuron recording to characterize responses of brain cells to ghrelin and leptin and to food related cues, with optogenetic methods to selectively activate specific pathways and identify inputs and outputs of recorded cells. The results will provide new knowledge about how the pathways processing food-related signals are interconnected to control feeding.

Dr Karl Iremonger, Physiology
The sex of stress: Understanding sex differences in neural circuits controlling stress. ($958,000)
Men and women respond differently to acute stress, and this underpins sex differences in stress adaptation, stress resilience and risk for developing stress-related mental health conditions. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons control the secretion of stress hormones in the body. We propose that differing stress responses between the sexes is determined in part by differences in CRH neuron activity patterns and excitability. We will use real-time recording of CRH neuron activity to determine how stress responses differ in male and female mice and identify the cellular mechanisms that cause these differences. The new information generated will provide a basic science platform for differential evidence-based treatment of stress-related disorders in men and women.

The Physiology Department's staff are so approachable and genuinely happy to help. Having lecturers be so positive and excited about their work makes study so much easier!

Allie Finlay - BSc (Physiology) student