Research Interests

Uncovering the genes and neural circuits that control zebrafish behaviour; The genetic basis of the aggression-boldness behavioural syndrome; Studying the function of novel ADHD-linked genes during neural development.

Research in the Norton laboratory focuses on genes, neural circuits and human diseases that are connected to aggression using zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model organism.  Over the last two decades, zebrafish have become a premiere model to study neuroscience as they offer many of the key advantages of invertebrate models while sharing anatomic and genetic similarities with mammals, including humans.  Zebrafish have several attributes which also make them an excellent model to study the mechanistic basis of behaviour, including ease of maintenance, short generation time, genetic tractability and a full repertoire of mature behaviours.  The large number of identified mutant lines, tools to manipulate genes (including Zinc-Finger nucleases and TALENs to knock-out genes), optogenetics and techniques to monitor neural activity (including calcium indicators and electrophysiology) make zebrafish an ideal model for behavioural neuroscience. 

One area of our research centres on measuring the aggression-boldness behavioural syndrome (a positive correlation between aggression, boldness and exploration levels) in groups of adult zebrafish that harbour mutations in single genes.  A key aspect of this work focuses upon measuring and comparing multiple behavioural changes in a single animal, giving insights into the pleiotropic action of the genes that control behaviour.  Through comparison of the behavioural phenotype of different mutant families, we aim to uncover the general brain areas and genetic pathways that are linked to aggression-boldness in the vertebrate brain.

A second aim of our research is to study the neurodevelopmental function of genes which are linked to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in human patients. ADHD is a common psychiatric disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  Although predominantly a childhood disease, ADHD can also be maintained into adulthood and lead to increases in aggression.  However, despite the large number of genes that have been identified by genome-wide association studies of human ADHD patients, the changes in neural development that lead to symptoms of the disease are not well understood.  In our work, we use larval zebrafish to uncover the function of some of these ADHD-related genes.  We have already identified ADHD-linked alterations to larval zebrafish behaviour, including locomotor hyperactivity and motor impulsivity.  By combining gene expression analyses with measurements of the behavioural impact of loss-of-gene function, we thus aim to better understand how alterations of genes that are identified in GWAS studies contribute to the symptoms of ADHD.

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Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour
University of Leicester
University Road
Leicester
LE1 7RH

T: +44 (0)116 252 2922
E: npbenquiries@le.ac.uk

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