This is an historical archive of the activities of the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit (MRC ANU) that operated at the University of Oxford from 1985 until March 2015. The MRC ANU established a reputation for world-leading research on the brain, for training new generations of scientists, and for engaging the general public in neuroscience. The successes of the MRC ANU are now built upon at the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford.

A division of labour in the external globus pallidus

Movement difficulties in people with Parkinson’s disease arise because of the disturbed electrical activity of nerve cells in the brain.  Excessive rhythmic activities called ‘beta oscillations’ are one key disturbance.  Research carried out at the Unit has given new insights into why and how these beta oscillations might emerge throughout the Parkinsonian brain.  By matching the electrical activity of individual nerve cells to their connections, members of the Magill group have discovered that two different types of cell in a brain area called the external globus pallidus (GPe) could perform a division of labour to control many other areas important for movement.  In their recently published paper, the team also reveal a novel type of GPe cell that provides massive and specific connections to the striatum, a brain area that is of central importance in Parkinson’s.  Because these remarkable GPe cells are positioned to cast wide nets of influence over their targets, they were termed “arkypallidal neurons” (from ancient Greek αρκυς [arkys] for ‘hunter’s net’).  Dr. Magill commented, “Exposing the striking diversity of GPe cells is a game changer for the field.  The challenge ahead now is to explain the building blocks and necessity of this diversity”.

This research was highlighted in 'Neuroanatomy: Out with the old (model)' by Leonie Welberg, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 518-519 (August 2012).