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Neuroendocrinology encompasses the broad study of how the brain regulates hormone production and, in turn, these hormones can act in the brain to regulate physiology and behaviour. In Exeter, our diverse neuroendocrinology research community includes teams studying food intake, glucose homeostasis, stress, pituitary function, and neuroendocrine tumours. Across these research areas a variety of interdisciplinary approaches are combined, from computational and mathematical modelling to molecularcell biology, neurophysiology, whole animal physiology, and human genomics.  

Areas of research: 

  • Stress on brain and behaviour: Prolonged or severe exposure to stress hormones can lead to behavioural dysfunctions.  Prof Ryu lead’s a group developing detailed and sophisticated models relating to the effects of stress on brain and behaviour using zebrafish. They are particularly interested in understanding how prolonged or severe exposure to stress hormones lead to behavioural dysfunctions. 

  • Stress hormone dynamics:Oscillations in glucocorticoid hormone concentration are important for the dynamic regulation of gene expression, as well as for more rapid non-genomic effects of glucocorticoids on neuronal function and stress-related behavioural activity. Using a combination of ex vivo and in vivo calcium imaging, hormone assays, and mathematical modelling, Dr Walker and his group are investigating how hypothalamic circuits and pituitary cell networks regulate these oscillations in stress hormone secretion, and how in turn these hormone oscillations feedback to influence the activity of stress-sensitive neuroendocrine systems.  

  • Computational modelling of pituitary hormone release: The work of Dr Tabak is trying to understand using mathematical models and experimental techniques how membrane ion channels shape the electrical activity of hormone-releasing cells of the pituitary gland. Understanding electrical activity at the cell level is a first step toward understanding how pituitary cells integrate signals from the brain and periphery, to decide how much hormone to release and thus maintain hormonal balance. 

  • Mathematical modelling of hypothalamic pulse generator neurons: The neuroendocrine research of Prof Tsaneva-Atanasova focusses on gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) (luteinising hormone [LH]) pulse generation and modulation. Over the past 12 years their research has developed mechanistic and data informed / based modelling approaches involving differential equations, information theory and Bayesian statistics of GnRH pulse frequency decoding; the origin of GnRH pulse generation identifying the KNDy neuronal population in the arcute nucleus as the driver of LH pulsatility and they are now looking at the amygdala circuitry involved in modulating KNDy and subsequently LH. Her work has also started exploring the interactions between the stress and reproductive axis. 

  • Role of glia in neural circuits regulating feeding: Precise control of energy homeostasis, the balance between food intake and energy expenditure, is essential for human and animal health. The brain co-ordinates feeding behaviour by integrating information transmitted via hormonal, nutrient, and neural inputs from the periphery. Pharmacological and genetic studies have begun to unravel the neural circuits regulating energy homeostasis. Prof Ellacott leads a research group focusing on the role of gliain the neural circuits regulating feeding. 

  • Neural regulation of glucose homeostasis: Dr Beall leads a research teaminvestigating the integrated physiology of glucose homeostasis and Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. This includes regulation of alpha cell function, brain-alpha cell communication, neural regulation of hepatic glucose output and skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity/glucose disposal. 

  • Neural regulation of the endocrine pancreas: The endocrine pancreas is innervated by autonomic and sensory nerves, but the role of innervation in pancreas development, hormone secretion and diabetes progression remain under-explored because of limited tools/methods for assessing cause from effect and providing precise molecular mechanisms. New approaches, including emerging optogenetic and chemogenetic tools, are required for understanding peripheral neurobiology with precision on physiological time scales. The work of the research group of Dr Yang is using these new approaches in zebrafish to elucidate the pathways that modulate neural-endocrine interactions, determine how specific neural perturbances alter pancreatic islet cell development, function and regeneration and contribute to diabetes aetiology, and explore changes in the neural network during islet cell dysfunction. 

  • Regulation of pulsatile insulin secretion: Dr Wedgwood combines mathematical modelling with experimental techniques to investigate how communication between pancreatic beta cells orchestrates the pulsatile secretion of insulin, which is required for glucose homeostasis. His research programme involves understanding the generation of electrical rhythms in individual beta cells and how these rhythms are integrated across heterogeneous networks of beta cells in pancreatic islets. Two important questions in this research are: to what extent does heterogeneity between cells help or hinder insulin secretion; and: can the intercellular interactions be modified to enhance secretory responses? 

  • Genomic analysis of neuroendocrine tumours: Prof Thirwell’s research group focuses on integrated genomic and circulating free DNA analysis in neuroendocrine (NET) and other solid tumours. NETs have a very low background mutation rate and commonly harbour mutations in epigenetic machinery, her group has therefore focused on epigenetic analyses integrated with sequencing and transcriptome data.  

Neuroendocrinology researchers at Exeter have leading and/or advisory roles in National and International organisations including: British Society for Neuroendocrinology; UK and Ireland Neuroendocrine Tumours Society; European Neuroendocrine Tumours Society; Neuroendocrine Tumours Research Foundation (USA); and the Society for Endocrinology. 

Neuroendocrinology - who we are

Professor Kate Ellacott  Associate Professor 
Professor Soojin Ryu  Mireille Gillings Professor of Neurobiology
Professor Chrissie Thirwell  Mireille Gillings Professor of Cancer Genomics
Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova   Professor of Methematics for Healthcare
Dr Craig Beall  Senior Lecturer
Dr Joel Tabak  Senior Lecturer
Dr Jamie Walker  Lecturer 
Dr Kyle Wedgwood  Lecturer
Dr Yu Hsuan Carol Yang  Lecturer
Dr Paul Weightman Potter   Research Fellow
Dr Ana Miguel Cruz  Postdoctoral Research Associate
Katie Partridge  PhD Student 
Jiping Zhang   PhD Student 
Asmaa Alkhaldi  PhD Student 
Katherine Pye  Research Technician
Wyn Firth  PhD Student