School of Life Sciences

Staras Lab

The Staras Laboratory

Function, dysfunction and plasticity in central synapses; decision-making and adaptation in neural circuits

Small central synapses are the key sites for information transfer in the brain. Importantly, they are not rigid in their function but highly adaptive. A change in synaptic strength is a critical step in memory formation and storage. However, synapses are also key target sites for dysfunctional change, contributing to the pathological symptoms in Alzheimer's disease, for example. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms that are responsible for both their flexibility and sensitivity represent major current goals in neuroscience.

Our lab uses sensitive imaging methods, electrophysiology and ultrastructural analysis to explore these questions. A central hypothesis is that the properties of neurotransmitter-containing synaptic vesicle pools - their size, structural organization and use-kinetics - are critical elements in setting synaptic performance and represent modifiable substrates for influencing or disrupting information flow.

Working with an industrial partner, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, we focus on revealing Alzheimer’s-related defects in synaptic function, providing novel substrates for therapeutic approaches. We also look at decision-making circuits underlying complex behaviours such as feeding. Other research interests interface with informatics; work with a European consortium is characterizing novel mechanisms of neuronal plasticity to inform new AI and robotics architectures.

Research funded by:



Kevin Staras

Professor of Neuroscience
University of Sussex
CRPC, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QG +44 1273 678478

December 2016: new Nature paper on XRCC1 mutation and cerebellar ataxia


June 2016: new Nature Comms paper on decision-making


September 2015: new Nature Comms paper on synaptic vesicle fate