Faculty of Biological Sciences

Prof James Deuchars

BSc, Glasgow; PhD 1992, London.
Professor of Systems Neuroscience
School of Biomedical Sciences

Contact:  Garstang G5.53g, office:Miall 7.11 | +44(0) 113 34 35594 | email address for  

Research Interests

How the central nervous system controls the autonomic system

Worldwide, hypertension and associated cardiovascular problems are on the increase. One currently untapped avenue for treatment is manipulation of areas of the central nervous system involved in cardiovascular control. Our aim is to further current understanding in these areas to open up the possibility of new interventions. We have several projects in this and associated areas:

Neuromodulation of the autonomic nervous systemNeuromodulation, the alteration of nerve activity through the use of targeted electrical stimulation or pharmacology, is a rapidly advancing field with applications in a plethora of conditions that have previously proven difficult to treat. We are investigating how neuromodulation influences the autonomic nervous system. We are investigating the effects of transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on autonomic nervous output in humans. We measure heart rate variability, baroreceptor reflex sensitivity and apply microneurography to measure sympathetic nerve activity.

Neuronal circuits controlling autonomic outflow – we combine electrophysiology and neuroanatomy to investigate properties of neuronal circuits in the CNS that underlie control of the autonomic nervous system. Much of this work focusses on cardiovascular control, but we also have interests in other autonomic outputs. A large part of this work focusses on the spinal cord and leads us to consider other spinal cord circuitry as part of a larger grouping at Leeds focussing on these areas.

Spinal cord connectome – with colleagues at Leeds (Chakrabarty, Sue Deuchars, Gamper, Ichiyama, King) we aim to investigate the spinal connectome – understanding how sensory afferents carry information into the spinal cord, the connections within the dorsal horn that processes the signals, the connections between these cells and the output cells of the cord – motor and preganglionic neurones. This incorporates understanding the properties and connections of cells within these circuits.

Differential expression of NKAa1 and NKAa3 in a and g motoneurones in the spinal cord. See Edwards et al (2013), Journal of Neuroscience, 33(24):9913-9.

Areas from which our research benefits from the input of colleagues in Leeds include:

Neuroscience and the cross-university research interest group NeuR@L.

Our cardiovascular research is facilitated by colleagues in the University wide Multi-Disciplinary Cardiovascular Research Centre and in the Faculty by Cardiovascular, Sports and Exercise Sciences.

Our investigations into how membrane proteins such as ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors and transporters influence the properties of neurones under investigation are aided by the Integrative Membrane Biology group.


Current Projects

Neuromodulation of the autonomic nervous system - employing physiological measurements of cardiorespiratory variables in human subjects.

Brainstem neuronal circuits - the brainstem receives information from the body about the state of the circulation with every beat of the heart. Most of this input terminates in the nucleus of the tractus solitarius. This region of the brainstem then assimilates this information and sends relevant details to the output regions of the CNS to hold the cardiovascular system at its desirable level. The NTS is known to have a complicated circuitry involved in processing all this information and many interneurones are included in this circuitry. These projects are investigating the physiology, pharmacology and anatomy of these neuronal circuits

Spinal Interneurones - the heart and circulatory system are controlled in part by the sympathetic nervous system which can be regulated by the brain as well as feedback from the body. A major level of control occurs in the spinal cord where sympathetic preganglionic neurones (SPNs) contribute to the control of heart rate and blood pressure. These SPNs are influenced by pathways from the brain and body which can act via small local cells (interneurones). To date, very little is known about the characteristics of these interneurones - where they are located, which neurones link to these cells, what neurotransmitters they contain and how they talk to the SPNs. We are therefore interested in determining these characteristics since we believe that these cells play a prominent role in the control of the circulation in both health and disease.

Our research receives support from the British Heart Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society and the BBSRC.


Faculty Research and Innovation

Studentship information

Undergraduate project topics:

  • Modulating neurogenesis in the CNS
  • The role of the central nervous system in control of blood pressure
  • Spinal cord circuits

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • The role of the central nervous system in control of blood pressure.
  • Modulating neurogenesis in the CNS
  • Neuromodulation of the autonomic nervous system
  • Vagal nerve stimulation

See also:

Modules managed

BMSC3139 - Systems Neurophysiology

Modules taught

BIOL5212M/5321M - Bioimaging
BMSC1103 - Basic Laboratory and Scientific Skills
BMSC1210/SPSC1222 - Biology of the Mind/Neuroscience for Exercise Science
BMSC1213 - Basic Laboratory and Scientific Skills 2
BMSC2120 - Scientific Skills
BMSC3139 - Systems Neurophysiology
BMSC3301 - Research Proj: Biomed Sciences


Member of Faculty Taught Student Education Committee
Member of Graduate School Committee

Centre membership:

Group Leader Prof James Deuchars  (Professor of Systems Neuroscience)

How the central nervous system controls the autonomic system 

Miss Jennifer Clancy  (Research Fellow)

Dr Varinder Lall  (Research Fellow)

Dr Lucy Peers  (Research Fellow)


Matthew Balmforth  
Beatrice Bretherton [RPG]  
Jillian Daniel [RPG]  
Hanan El-Kuwaila [ml14hiae]  
Nurhafizah Ghani  
Jittima Gotts  
Jessica Haigh  
Claudia MacLean [RPG]  
Mohd Mahadi  
Yusoff Merican  
Pierce Mullen  
Aaron Murray  
Christian Nathan  
Lauryn New  
Nazlahshaniza Shafin