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Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research| Tuesday 19 September 2017 |

A letter from Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery

The first time I attended the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research (AWCBR) was in 1998 as a PhD student. That year I also was extremely proud to be awarded the Goddard Award for best student oral presentation. I remember back then how I really loved the supportive, cosy and nurturing environment of this meeting.

Taking on the role of Chair for the past six years has reflected my personal commitment to this meeting, ensuring that this feeling of supportive collaboration based on academic and translational research carries on today. From the first meeting I attended in the late nineties until this day, AWCBR has grown in scope and quality and in size, which is exactly how I envisioned this conference would always be; high quality brain researchers from all over New Zealand, and some from the far corners of the world, coming together to learn from each other and fostering collaborations between seasoned and emerging neuroscientists, in an informal and relaxed winter wonderland.

During my tenue as Chair I have strived to increase the number and calibre of international speakers, always being careful of safeguarding this platform for neuroscientists from New Zealand and Australia, as this is the heart of the meeting and the reason why the committee will always predominantly showcased our local talent. I am also really pleased that our annual AWCBR dinner provides a great opportunity for our neuroscientists to come together and celebrate. We put together such a great night that even the DJ has specifically requested the AWCBR function as his staple yearly event and put on such a great party.

But personal accomplishments aside, AWCBR is essentially about good science, a meeting that will always remain student friendly; however, for the conference to continue delivering high quality outputs, it needs to have a healthy mix of established and emerging neuroscientists presenting their data and participating on its organising committee. Seasoned neuroscientists can safeguard the calibre of the speakers whilst PhD students and young research fellows ensure the meeting remains relevant and provides opportunities for career growth.

In the future, I’d like to see the quality of international plenary speakers remain as cutting edge as it now, as well as an emerging neuroscientist led session in which research fellows present and learn from each other. The idea raised by our programme coordinator Karl Iremonger of having a “data blitz” section, framed as a dynamic session that showcases recent research developments, in five minute modules, would  be an excellent addition to the meeting.

On my last year as Chair, I’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who spoke, presented a poster and participated in this year’s AWCBR. I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s programme and the topics covered. My personal standout presentations were the plenary lecture from Lucy Palmer “The role of dendrites in shaping cortical function” and from the student presentations, Hannah Best who was awarded the Goddard Prize for her seminar entitled “Therapeutic targeting of autophagy in neurodegenerative Batten disease”. 

When I took over from Prof Cliff Abraham as Chair of AWCBR, the committee agreed that the outgoing Chair would remain a part of the organisation of this conference. This means that although I step down as a Chair, I will continue to help support and organise this meeting! I leave you in the very capable hands of Associate Professor Ruth Empson, who was the Deputy Chair in 2014 and 2015, and Dr Stephanie Hughes who steps into the Deputy Chair role. I’m sure everyone knows that I they are just as passionate and enthusiastic about preserving the AWCBR ethos as I am.

As a final thought, I’d like to invite everyone who has ever participated in this meeting, to start thinking about presenting your science in next year’s AWCBR. Let’s ensure this conference remains friendly, supportive and light hearted, yet never light in neuroscience!

Johanna Montgomery


Warm regards,

Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery

Chair, AWCBR

BRNZ Update


By Blaise Cahill-Lane

BRNZ Science Writer 

Now in its third year, Brain Research New Zealand - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa, is planning for the future of neuroscience in New Zealand. Brain aging will, if we’re lucky, happen to all of us. By engaging with different cultural viewpoints and scientific advances we stand a better chance of ensuring that this brain aging is as healthy as possible for all people. For our multicultural society this means bridging the cultural divide between Māori and non-Māori in how we talk about aging, and encouraging Māori to take a more prominent role in neuroscience research. By being intentional and putting in the work to make sure that the voices of tangata whenua are heard we can build a more holistic view of brain aging, one which encourages people from all walks of life to take part in the study of the brain.

The research itself is taking on new life. While the core of our work is still based in cells, and tissue, and physical systems, technological advances have allowed us to extend into robotics and the digital realm. BRNZ researchers are already working on ways to update old therapies, or create new ones, using these technologies. From virtual reality to exoskeletons, these technologies could allow for newer and more effective treatment and rehabilitation for age-related disorders.

Our focus is now firmly on the future, for both BRNZ and neuroscience in New Zealand. This wānanga clarified that vision for the years to come.


To view images of this meeting please click here

Plenary Lectures


Professor Gary Housley

"Bionic array directed gene electrotransfer (BaDGE): From neuroscience discovery to clinical applications"

Professor Gary Housley leads a team with a research focus on molecular, cellular and systems physiology in the nervous system, particularly around neuroprotection in the CNS and auditory system.  He has contributed prominently to understanding how hearing adapts to noise and ageing.

Within the brain, Professor Housley's research group is investigating neural plasticity associated with driven input (e.g. via cochlear implant) and mechanisms for protection and repair of the nervous system; focusing of the role of calcium signalling in glutamate excitotoxicity, associated with ischaemic brain injury, stroke, epilepsy, trauma and noise-induced hearing loss.

Dr Lucy Palmer

"The role of dendrites in shaping cortical function"

Dr Lucy Palmer is a Senior Medical Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, who investigates the activity within different brain regions during the process of making a decision. Her experiments seek to explain the brain function during decision-making leading to a greater understanding of why people make certain decisions.

Her ultimate goal is to contribute to the community by further understanding many diseases of the brain where decision-making is impaired, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.

Lucy’s plenary lecture discussed our current knowledge about how dendrites receive and transform sensory input, and highlighted the influence of these processes on neural network activity. She also addresses the importance of dendritic activity during behaviour, bridging the gap between system and cellular neuroscience.

Dr Jason Berwick

"Neurovascular function in health and disease"

Dr Jason Berwick is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield. Initially, his research focused on how nerve cells are coupled to blood vessels, to understand the basic mechanisms that regulate it and how this coupling is altered in neurodegenerative diseases.

Although fMRI has revolutionised the field of cognitive neuroscience by increasing the understanding of the workings of the human brain, it only measures a secondary hemodynamic marker of neural activity. A complete understanding of the BOLD signal source, in terms of metabolism and neural activation, is of critical importance especially as it is being used as a biomarker in many disease states such as dementia. There is a distinct possibility that BOLD signals in disease may not be driven entirely by neural activation but result as a consequence of a perturbed vascular system.

Jason’s research uses multi-modal imaging and electrophysiology methods to understand neurovascular coupling in health, and how it may be changing in disease.  Focusing on how non-neuronally driven BOLD signals could be generated when the vascular system is perturbed in Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Bruce Beutler

Nobel Prize Lecture - Queenstown Research Week Inaugural Ceremony

Bruce Beutler, MD, discovered an important family of receptors that allow mammals to sense infections when they occur, triggering a powerful inflammatory response. For this work he received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The Beutler laboratory systematically employs a forward genetic approach to identify genes that are essential for the mammalian innate immune response, and to determine their functions relative to one another.

The forward genetic approach entails: (i) the induction of thousands of random germline point mutations on a defined genetic background (C57BL/6J) using N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU), (ii) the phenotypic screening of many thousands of mice for specific defects of immunity, and (iii) the positional cloning of those transmissible mutations that are detected.

This classical genetic method does not depend upon hypotheses, nor upon assumptions about how innate immunity "should" work. Hence, it is unbiased, and errors of interpretation are extremely rare.


To view images of our plenary lecturers please click here

Sensory and Motor Systems


By Dr Karl Iremonger


The research presented on the first evening of the 2017 AWCBR conference focused on understanding sensory and motor neural circuits.

Professor Gary Housley from the University of New South Wales gave the plenary lecture where he described how cochlear implants are used to restore hearing in individuals with hearing loss. He then detailed his own research efforts to develop techniques to improve hearing sensitively in persons with cochlear implants. Importantly, Professor Housley noted how his research discoveries have implications for improving the treatment of a wide variety of other neurological disorders.

The plenary lecture was followed by four short talks from researchers based in both New Zealand and Australia. These talks presented new research discoveries concerning changes in the sensory/motor nervous system in response to injury and ageing. The complexity of the connections in the sensory/motor nervous system were also revealed.

Overall, these talks gave the audience fascinating insight into a very important and highly complex part of the nervous system.



Professor Peter Thorne, from the University of Auckland, presented his research on the inflammation and fibrosis sustained post-cochlear implantation, which can also impair residual cochlear function. Preservation of residual hearing after cochlear implantation is desirable for improved performance and preservation of the cochlea for future technology improvements.

This research study aims to provide preliminary data of the time course of inflammation and the development of fibrosis for posterior otoprotective studies during cochlear implantation aimed at reducing both the inflammatory response and the tissue injury.

Dr Yiwen Zheng, from the University of Otago, investigated changes in the release of the excitatory and inhibitory amino acids at different time points following acoustic trauma as well as in response to sound stimulations using in vivo microdialysis.  Yiwen presented novel evidence that acoustic trauma alters neurotransmitter release in response to sound, which may underlie the development of neuronal hyperactivity and tinnitus.

Dr Ann-Maree Vallence, from Murdoch University, used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and the Purdue pegboard to investigate associations between age-related changes in motor cortical function and manual dexterity. As age-related decline in brain function is associated with alterations in the excitability of intracortical circuits in the primary motor cortex (M1) and connections between cortical motor areas.

Her findings suggest that SMA—M1 facilitation is functionally relevant and is reduced with age, showing that age-related changes in motor cortical function are associated with voluntary movement.

Professor Paul Smith, from the University of Otago, attempted to selectively electrically stimulate the horizontal, anterior and posterior semi-circular canals of the hippocampus to understand how vestibular sensory information is used by this part of the brain.

Responses were obtained bilaterally from unilateral stimulation and the latencies were usually at least 20 ms; amplitudes were usually greater in dorsal regions compared to ventral regions. These results demonstrate that vestibular input to the hippocampus is complex and that all semi-circular canal and otolithic sensory receptors are represented.


To view images of this session please click here

Neurogenomics Symposium


By Frankie Favero

CBR Senior Communications Adviser

An exciting session marked the start of the second day, as neurogeneticists took centre stage. From disorders inherent to childhood to those of the ageing brain, our speakers demonstrated how genetics can provide the foundation to understand the biology of neurodegeneration.



Associate Professor Antony Cooper, Head of both the Neurodegeneration & Neurogenomics Program and Neuroscience Division at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, talked about transcriptional changes in Parkinson's disease, particularly in long non-coding RNA. To further examine these changes, his lab employs RNA Splicing, a mechanism that allows you to edit RNA and remove non-coding bits of DNA.

He also identified PARNA expression as reduced by over 80% in people prior to experiencing symptoms of neurodegeneration.

Professor Stephen Robertson, is a clinician and the CureKids Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the University of Otago, his research investigates the genetics and biology of neurogenesis in a neurodevelopmental condition called Neuronal Heteropia. Individuals affected by this condition don't have gyrated folds in the cortex like neurotypical people.

Dr Margaret Ryan, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago, talked about her quest to find a reliable and specific biomarker, using microRNA, to predict Alzheimer’s pathology.

Dr Jessie Jacobsen, is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Auckland and the co-founder of the Minds for Minds Network, her research is centred around genetic anomalies that are not detected by the current screening technology used in the clinics; structural variants.

The most accurate way to find structural variants is through whole genome sequencing and sophisticated methods of specific fragment sequencing. Using these technologies, Jessie is able to provide families with accurate diagnostics and useful therapies. 


To view images of this symposium please click here

Disorders of the Nervous System I & II


By Professor Cliff Abraham


The overarching aim of neuroscientific research is to understand the workings of the brain, and how they go wrong in various neurological disorders. Such knowledge will drive new, effective therapies for these otherwise intractable disorders.

Stroke, for example, is due to cutting off the blood supply to parts of the brain and thus killing the affected nerve cells. Treatment or rehabilitation strategies revolve around trying to help the nearby surviving nerve cells to learn to take over the functions of the dead ones. Or if they themselves are damaged but not destroyed, to help them recover their functions.

For progressive neurological diseases, it is critical to understand the mechanisms causing nerve cell dysfunction and death so that molecular targets for treatment can be identified. This is a particular issue for major disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Sometimes these studies are coupled to identifying biomarkers, in the blood for example, which may not only help with disease diagnosis but may also serve as windows into the molecular changes causing the diseases.

For complex mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the disease mechanisms are not always clear but drug therapies are nonetheless in use because they offer relief for some individuals. Understanding how commonly used drugs like lithium actually work on nerve cells may turn out to help us understand better the nature of bipolar disorder and inform the development of other better therapies on a rational basis.



Session I

Associate Professor John Reynolds, from the University of Otago, presented his latest study on stroke and upper limb movement recovery. By applying theta-burst stimulation (TBS) to contralesional motor cortex (M1), his research has demonstrated that TBS, applied to the contralesional motor cortex, is safe and feasible, and may improve moderate/severe UL impairment greater than can be achieved with rehabilitation alone.

Dr Ailsa McGregor, from the University of Otago, spoke about her ongoing research on the varenecline drug. Her latest study shows that the delayed administration of varenicline in stroke, can increase vascular inflammation and white matter damage. Moreover, it is detrimental to stroke recovery.

Dr Phil Heyward, from the University of Otago, presented his research on the use of lithium to treat bipolar disorder. His findings demonstrate that Li+ affects a potassium current, the delay current (ID), and are reproduced in mitral cells by specific blockers of ID. These results suggest that Li+ promotes coherent, oscillatory activity within and between brain networks through modulation of ID, consistent with its effectiveness in bipolar disorder.

Dr Jian Guan, from the University of Auckland, is interested in the potential of human growth factors and hormones as novel biomarkers of neurodegeneration. Through her research she as singled out Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), because it is critical for cognitive function and wound healing. Dr Guan is currently investigating reliable biomarkers for IGF-1 function to identify individuals with high risk of cognitive impairment and predict their ability to recover.

Mohamed Ibrahim, from the University of Otago, presented his research in spino-cerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), characterized by motor incoordination and degeneration of Purkinje Neurons (PN), the main output neurons of the cerebellar cortex. His studies suggest that enhanced KCC2 expression contributes to enhanced GABA-ergic inhibition in SCA1 PNs and disrupts firing behaviour.

Targeting enhanced KCC2 activity is a promising approach to treat SCA1 disease.

Dr Brigid Ryan, from the University of Auckland, presented her research project; an established prospective longitudinal observational study of a large New Zealand family cohort with a genetic mutation that is known to cause frontotemporal dementia (FTD). 


Session II

Associate Professor Nigel Birch, from the University of Auckland, examined the effects of site-specific glycation of Amyloid-Beta on aggregation into amyloid fibrils. Amyloid-Beta is a substrate for non-enzymatic glycation and several reports have suggested that glycated Amyloid-Beta is a common pathological feature of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. His studies demonstrate significant impacts of site-specific glycation on the biophysical properties of Amyloid-Beta.

Hannah Best, University of Otago

Goddard Prize Winner

Batten disease refers to a genetically diverse group of neurodegenerative disorders characterised by the lysosomal accumulation of undigested cellular components and progressive neurodegeneration.

Hannah’s study provides the first preliminary data on the beneficial effects of gemfibrozil for the treatment of CLN6 Batten disease. These findings are particularly relevant to disorders resulting from deficiencies in membrane-bound proteins, such as CLN6, which are anecdotally harder to treat with gene therapy or stem cell transplantation.

These conclusions are also applicable to the broader field of neurodegenerative storage disorders, many of which share neuroinflammatory and/or aberrant storage accumulation.

Shabah Shadli, from the University of Otago, wanted to explore the potential of the right frontal goal-conflict-specific-rhythmicity (GCSR) in a simple stop signal task (SST) as a human EEG anxiety process biomarker.His research demonstrated that the blind administration of triazolam (0.25mg), pregabalin (75mg) buspirone (10mg), or placebo showed, like the SST, that stop left F8 GCSR was sensitive to all three anxiolytics. Stop right F8 GCSR was sensitive to pregabalin and buspirone but not triazolam.

These results show that elicitation of right frontal GCSR generalizes from the SST to the ARIT both in relation to personality and pharmacology particularly with left hand stopping.

Jennifer Robertson, from the Australian National University, was interested in investigating the effect of epilepsy on specific types of inhibitory cells in the piriform cortex, so she developed a research project, seeking to determine the effect of electrical kindling on each of the major inhibitory cell types in the piriform cortex.

Her study provides the first rigorous characterisation of the effect of epilepsy on different inhibitory cell types and may provide insight into the mechanism of seizure generalisation through the piriform cortex.

Alison Cook, from the University of Western Australia, developed a novel displacement-sensitive probe with an active stabilization system, with a resolution of nanometres, to measure slow displacements of the organ of Corti (OC) in the living mammalian cochlea.

Direct measurement of OC displacements will help us understand what slow movements take place in vivo, what auto-regulatory processes exist in the normal cochlea, and may indicate possible modes of failure of these processes. This technique is exciting because it could also be applied to similar compliant sensory membranes (e.g. vestibular system) or other tissue (e.g. airway, gut, or cardiac muscle).

Dr Rebekah Blakemore, from the University of Otago, examined the effect of repeated exposure to negative emotional stimuli on isometric grip-force control in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Eighteen patients with idiopathic PD (tested off-medication) and 18 healthy control volunteers produced an isometric precision grip contraction at 15% of maximum force in four conditions: while viewing visual feedback of force output, or while viewing a series of unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral emotional images

Her insights corroborated previous findings in other models of PD; exposure to stress-evoking emotional stimuli can exacerbate impairments in fine motor control in individuals with PD.


To view images of these lectures please click here.

In Vivo Imaging


By Dr Juliette Cheyne


The second plenary speaker at AWCBR this year was Dr Lucy Palmer from the University of Melbourne, Australia. She gave an excellent talk on the role of dendrites in shaping cortical function which covered her work with Mathew Larkum during her postdoctoral period in Switzerland and Germany.

Lucy also talked about the work her lab is currently doing at the Florey Institute in Melbourne. Her research explores how dendrites in the somatosensory cortex process and integrate information. These complex questions are answered by performing in vivo electrophysiology and imaging in awake behaving animals.

Following Lucy’s Plenary lecture Dr Juliette Cheyne organised a symposium along the same theme to showcase the research of several postdocs and research fellows performing in vivo recording and imaging in New Zealand and Australia.



Dr Malinda Tantirigama and Dr Saba Gharaei were invited from Australian National University in Canberra. Malinda talked about his work with Professor John Bekkers where he examined odour habituation in the piriform cortex in vivo. His work explores the circuit dynamics in response to repeated odour presentation using two-photon microscopy in vivo. Saba works with Professor Greg Stuart and Associate Professor Ehsan Arabzadeh. She performs in vivo electrophysiology to examine the impact of the superior colliculus on cortical processing of whisker input.

Dr Joon Kim and Dr Emmet Power were invited from the University of Otago. Joon works together with Dr Karl Iremonger examining the rapid modulation of stress neuron activity dynamics. To examine activity in stress neurons which are located deep in the brain, in the hypothamus, Joon established fibre photometry in freely moving test subjects. Emmet, who works with Associate Professor Ruth Empson, has set up chronic voltage-sensitive imaging, using a genetically encoded thinned skull preparation to examine awake brain activity during a motor task.

Lastly, Dr Juliette Cheyne from the University of Auckland talked about her work examining the development of the auditory cortex in autism spectrum disorder models using in vivo calcium imaging and whole cell electrophysiology. 

AWCBR 2017 Conference Dinner


The annual AWCBR Dinner is one of the staples of this meeting, as it provides a relaxed and fun opportunity for emerging and seasoned scientists to get to know each other, network and plan future research collaborations in a casual environment.

From the delicious and premium dinner buffet (on an upwards trend since our current Chair took over), through the enthusiastic DJ who specifically requests for "our business" every year and all the way to the emotive speeches and academic dancing, this event is a staple of the meeting and is never to be missed. This year was no exception!


To view images of the AWCBR 2017 Dinner please click here.

Novel Methods and Technology Development I & II


By Dr Tracy Melzer


I had the pleasure of chairing the Novel Methods and Technology Development (I) session on Monday morning. This was an exciting session that included talks from investigators based in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin, addressing computational modeling, EEG biofeedback, and novel methods to investigate the blood brain barrier and the lipidome.

Computational modeling was used to investigate the relationship between known cellular processes and the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) signal; this is the signal measured with functional MRI. Similarly, cortical spreading depression was also investigated using numerical cell modeling.

EEG biofeedback was presented as a therapeutic tool to improve memory in older people, with promising pilot results. An intact blood brain barrier (BBB) allows appropriate molecules to cross from the blood to the brain, while at the same time preventing others from crossing; therefore BBB dysfunction may contribute to conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

A novel method, electric cell-substrate impedance sensing, was used to investigate real-time changes in barrier integrity. Lastly, high-resolution matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) imaging mass spectrometry was used to characterize the lipid profile of the subventricular zone in human brain tissue.

The presentations were very interesting and stimulated a number of questions and conversations after the session. I hope to see even more such talks at AWCBR 2018.



Session I

Elshin Mathias, from the University of Canterbury, presented a mathematical model describing the calcium signalling hypothesis of neurovascular coupling. The full model, consisting of complex neurovascular and BOLD components, is the first of its kind and will therefore provide further understanding between the neuronal activity and the resulting macroscale BOLD signal.

Dr Timothy Galt, from the University of Otago, explained how source localised EEG biofeedback is a therapeutic tool which could improve memory in older people. In his latest research project with human participants, the EEG data is then analysed and source localised using sLORETA. This is displayed back to the subject so that they can take conscious control over it. This pilot study procedure showed promising results.

Dr Simon O’Carroll, from the University of Auckland, spoke about how understanding the changes that occur in the Blood Brain Barrier BBB are crucial to developinging potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders. His current research is employing electric cell-substrate impedance sensing (ECISTM), as a non-invasive biophysical approach to monitor living cells in real time.

Michelle Goodman, from the University of Canterbury, presented her research into recognising and predicting the occurrence of Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD) in migraines, as these waves of depolarisation cause irregular blood flow, which has been linked to migraines as a cause of visual auras.

Mandana Hunter, from the University of Auckland, presented her research into characterising the lipidomic architecture of the human subventricular zone, the first of its kind. She previously hypothesised the existence of specialised lipid microenvironments within the neurogenic niche.


Session II

Dr Dan Johnstone, from the University of Sydney, presented his research in Photobiomodulation (PBM) – the irradiation of tissue with low-intensity 600–1100nm light – and how it exhibits strong neuroprotective properties in the Parkinson’s disease brain. He is currently evaluating the utility of remote PBM as a neuroprotective therapy against other neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr Nico Vautrelle, from the University of Otago, spoke about his newly established model of Parkinson’s disease and how it provides an opportunity for developing and testing new technologies that might translate into clinical practice.

Tim Van Ginkel, from the University of Canterbury, presented a second virtual model of intracellular calcium dynamics. This new neuronal calcium model is more physiologically accurate than its predecessor, capturing behaviour observed in vivo.


To view images of these sessions please click here.

Neural Excitability, Synapses and Glia


By Associate Professor Ping Liu


In the session of “Neural excitability, synapses and glia: cellular mechanisms”, the speakers presented differential synaptic storage capacities in the sub-regions of the hippocampus.



Professor Cliff Abraham, from the University of Otago, presented differential synaptic storage capacities in the sub-regions of the hippocampus. 

Dr Jesse Ashton, from the University of Auckland, showed increased spontaneous synaptic activity in neurons of the intracardiac plexus of hypertensive models.

Alison Clare, from the University of Otago, spoke about transcriptome profiling of layer 5 intratelencephalic-projection neurons in the mature motor cortex. 

Praghalathan Kanthakumar, from the University of Otago, presented the action of lithium on the delay current in olfactory projection neurons.

Regina Hegemann, from the University of Otago, introduced us to cell firing-induced down-regulation of future long-term potentiation  

Dr Bronwyn Kivell, from Victoria University of Wellington, presented the potential of biased agonism at opioid receptors for the development of better safer opioid therapeutics for addiction and pain.


To view images of this meeting please click here.  

Queenstown Research Week 2017


Queenstown Research Week is New Zealand’s biggest annual scientific gathering.  It is a week of co-ordinated meetings covering a wide range of science areas. The concept has developed from three different iconic New Zealand scientific meetings: the NZ Medical Sciences Congress (Medsci), Queenstown Molecular Biology Meetings, and the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research (AWCBR). 

These meetings agreed to co-ordinate their meeting programmes in order to create critical mass, and QRW is pleased to host these and a range of other important meetings each year.


To view images of this year's QRW please click here.

Cognition and Behavior


By Frankie Favero

CBR Senior Communications Adviser

The AWCBR meeting would not have been complete without a cognitive neuroscience session. This fascinating research includes studies of sensation and perception, learning and memory, attention, mental imagery, conceptual representation, ageing, language, emotion, motor control, social cognition, moral decision making, and neurological disorders.

Cognitive neuroscientists use methodologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (ECG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to explore and understand the neural bases of cognition and behavior.


Professor Brian Hyland, from the University of Otago, presented his research into dopamine phasic elevations and dopamine transporters. His data suggests that homeostatic autoregulation processes need to be taken into account to understand the actions of methylphenidate in the awake behaving stage

Kelly Paton, from the Victoria University of Wellington, spoke about the highly addictive nature of current pain medications and introduced kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonists as an alternative, because they have been shown to deliver analgesic effects without rewarding properties.

Her insights poise kappa opioid receptor agonists as an effective treatment of chronic neuropathic pain, reducing nociceptive, inflammatory and neuropathic pain without the risk of abuse.

Kyla-Louise Horne, from the University of Canterbury, introduced her research study which included 123 non-demented Parkinson’s disease patients who were followed over 3.5-4.5 years; 27 progressed to PDD during the study. Her research findings suggest that cognitive ability is a much stronger and sufficient predictor of conversion to PDD than traditional neuropsychiatric measures.

Thomas Elston, from the University of Otago, was interested in how ACC ‘search value’ signals are translated into the motivation to search. Through a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological, and modeling analyses, he found that the initiation of exploratory behavior and the persistence of behavioral change were associated with ACC à VTA signaling.

Jingwen Mao, from the University of Auckland, presented his research on the point in which computer-generated characters, depicting humans, seize to provide increased user experience and start provoking a sense of discomfort and weirdness in the user. This is known as “uncanny valley”.

Jingwen studied how our brain reacts to highly realistic computer generated faces at a neurological level using psychophysiological measures such as EEG to explore the psychophysiological response of viewing these faces. Findings suggested that we are tuned to detect faces that are very humanlike but not yet very human.

Sandila Tanveer, from the University of Canterbury, introduced his research study investigating the long-term priming effects produced by formerly attended targets and formerly rejected distractors using Neumann and DeSchepper methodology. With lower versus upper-case words as the selection cue, participants were required to name the prime target word followed by a making a word/nonword judgement to the probe target.


To view images of this session please click here

Poster Session and Prize Giving


By Dr Stephanie Hughes

PhD student Hannah Best under the supervision of Dr Stephanie Hughes was awarded the Goddard Prize - the Best Student Oral Presentation at the 35th Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research (AWCBR) held in Queenstown, 1-6 September 2017.

Take symptoms usually associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy. Combine this with motor dysfunction, blindness and a feeding tube in 4-9 year old children and you have Batten disease, a fatal genetic childhood neurodegenerative disease for which there are currently few treatments and no cure.

Hannah’s work focuses on two forms of the disease, aiming to understand the basic biology and develop rational therapies. Her studies showed reduced lysosomal and autophagic function,  key components of the cellular recycling system in our cells and critical components for healthy neuronal function.

Using this information Hannah investigated current FDA approved drugs to mitigate these changes, first in neuronal cell cultures and then in a mouse model of Batten disease. These short term mouse studies showed a commonly used lipid lowering drug could reduce storage and neuroinflammation in the brain, howver also indicated differential drug effects between males and females. Longer term efficacy trials are currently underway.

PhD student Ashwini Hariharan under the supervision of Associate Professor Ping Liu was awarded the Best Student Poster Presentation at the 35th AWCBR held in Queenstown, 1-6 September 2017.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. Since the amyloid cascade hypothesishas been increasingly challenged due to clinical trial failure of amyloid-centred therapy, a critical question has been raised: Is amyloid beta the primary cause for the 95% of sporadic late-onset AD cases, or is it secondary to some other process? There is therefore an urgent need to explore other mechanisms.

Recent research has proposed that cerebrovascular endothelial dysfunction during advanced aging, together with other risk factors,triggers the neurodegenerative processes. Nitric oxide (NO) produced from L-arginine by endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) is a key regulator of cerebral blood flow dynamics. eNOS deficient (eNOS-/-) mice display age-related increases in amyloid beta in the brain and memory deficits, suggesting a critical role of eNOS dysfunction (hence cerebrovascular dysfunction) in the development of AD. Using a real-time microcirculation imager, Ashwini found that male and female eNOS-/- mice at 4 and 14 months of ages displayed abnormal increases in the blood perfusion in the Barrel cortex following the whisker stimulation relative to their age- and sex-matched wild-type controls. Moreover, the tissue concentrations of glutamine in the fontal cortex, hippocampus and parahippocampal region (the brain regions affected early and severely in AD) were dramatically reduced in eNOS-/- mice at both sexes and ages.

Ashwini’s work, for the first time, demonstrates early and long-lasting alterations in cerebrovascular coupling and glutamine metabolism in mice with eNOS deficiency. She is currently investigating the underlying mechanisms and functional significance of these changes.


To view images of the combined QRW poster session please click here. Prize giving images can be viewed here.