Neuroscience, in particular how changes at synapses are orchestrated and relate to behaviour.
Sarah Crisp is a neurology registrar with a particular interest in autoimmune diseases affecting the nervous system. She is currently doing research funded by the Wellcome Trust investigating an autoimmune disease which was first described in 2008. She supervises Neurobiology for second year undergraduate students, and mentors the clinical students as Director of Studies.
Normal behaviours, such as walking and breathing, rely on a balance between excitatory and inhibitory activity in the nervous system. Reduced inhibition results in over-activity causing diseases such as epilepsy and spasticity.
In the spinal chord, the major inhibitor is glycine, a chemical that decreases the activity of nerve cells by binding to its receptor. Some patients inherit gene mutations in the receptor for glycine causing extreme rigidity and exaggerated startle responses in infancy. Adults can develop similar symptoms and some of these patients have antibodies in their blood which bind to their glycine receptors. My research aims to understand how these antibodies interfere with glycine function.
I apply antibodies from patients directly to nerve cells in the laboratory to investigate the mechanisms by which antibodies disrupt neuronal function. I am also using these methods to improve the detection of antibodies in other patients with suspected abnormalities of glycine-mediated inhibition. Alongside my laboratory studies, I am investigating which neural circuits are disrupted in patients by non-invasively stimulating and recording from nerves and muscles. Such studies will be important in understanding the disease process and clinical findings, and provide insights into the regulation of inhibition.