Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie
Department of Anatomy, University of Otago
Research in the Parr-Brownlie lab focuses on the neural mechanisms that underlie voluntary movements and the movement deficits of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that affects approximately 8000 patients in New Zealand. To optimise current therapies or develop novel treatments for Parkinson's disease, there is a critical need to fully understand the normal and pathophysiological roles of each component in brain circuits that control movement. One component for which there is a major gap in our knowledge is the basal ganglia-thalamocortical pathway. Parkinson's disease results in profound changes in single cell activity in basal ganglia nuclei, subsequent to loss of dopaminergic input. It has been assumed that changes in basal ganglia activity in Parkinson's disease are passed first to the motor thalamus and then to the motor cortex. Studies performed by Dr Parr-Brownlie have shown that motor cortex activity is impaired in Parkinson's disease, however, our studies in the motor thalamus do not support a simple linear flow of pathological activity from basal ganglia to motor thalamus and motor cortex. We use a combination of electrophysiological, behavioural and immunohistochemical techniques to address research questions. In collaboration with Professor Brian Hyland (Physiology) and Dr Stephanie Hughes (Biochemistry), motor thalamus and motor cortex function are being explored using cutting-edge optogenetic technology that, for the first time, enables confident characterisation and manipulation of part of the basal ganglia-thalamocortical pathway. We will use light pulses to modulate brain activity in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease to learn how this alters motor thalamus and motor cortex activity, and behaviour.