Animal Behaviour and In Vivo Studies


This theme encompasses:

  • all aspects of learning and behaviour, from neurobiology function through to higher brain decision making. It could also encompass sensory biology, from perception of signal through to response and include plant/microbial perception and response pathways where appropriate.
  • whole animal systems as research models, looking at development, physiology and function. It also includes ethical considerations and procedural aspects. The key is the whole animal as the starting point of the investigations and includes model systems such as zebra fish and mouse.

Research Theme Champion

Prof Emma Robinson

Their research: Work in our laboratory uses behavioural studies alongside neuropharmacological and neurochemical approaches to study the role of specific neural and neurochemical systems in the control of behaviour. We are particularly interested in developing novel models, that can be also be used in humans, to study the cause and treatment of psychiatric conditions where emotional changes are an important feature e.g. depression and anxiety. In addition, our work is also relevant to other psychiatric conditions including drug addiction, schizophrenia and ADHD.

The majority of our research uses operant and non-operant methods to assess particular aspects of behaviour such as emotional behaviour, attention, behavioural control and decision making.

Animal models of emotional behaviour are limited in terms of their relevance to human psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. We have now developed a number of translational models which replicate symptoms associated with cognitive affective behaviour. For example, have developed an exciting new method for rodents which exhibits FaceConstruct and Predicitive validity and provides a quantitative measure of both antidepressant and pro-depressant manipulations in animals. We have used a judgement bias task to test how both animal and human subjects respond to emotional stimuli and ambiguous stimuli under different affective states. This work adds to a growing literature showing that animal and human judgement and decision-making is influenced by their affective state.

These novel behavioural methods are used in combination with pharmacology and/or genetic approaches to manipulate specific neural and neurochemical processes to test specific hypotheses relating to the cause and treatment of different pscyhiatric disorders.

The laboratory uses a wide range of techniques to compliment the behavioural procedures including receptor autoradiography (see figure right) and immunocytochemistry to quantify the expression and distribution of receptors in the brain. Neurochemical experiments using microdialysis facilitate quantification of brain transmitters whilst genetic approaches such as antisense technology and viral-mediated gene transfer are used to alter the expression and/or function of target proteins in the brain.

Examples of past research theme events

  • Animal cognition workshop - exploring animal cognition in fieldwork, genetic and computational models, and the role of animal cognition in animal welfare 
  • Public engagement training day - how to communicate to the public about in vivo research (in collaboration with the GW4 MRC DTP)
  • Longleat Safari park visit - to understand the impact of animal behaviour on when designing their living environment and considerations for animal welfare