Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
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Dr. HongYan Zhang

Locomotor control and rhythm generation; Locomotor circuit recovery following spinal cord injury.

Dr HongYan Zhang

Principal Investigator

  • The Chancellor's Building
  • 49 Little France Crescent
  • EH16 4SB

Contact details

Personal profile

  • 2013 - Present: Chancellor’s Fellow, Centre for Neuroregeneration, MVM
  • 2012 - 2013: Postdoc, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews (Prof Keith T. Sillar and Dr Wenchang Li)
  • 2005 - 2012: Postdoc, School of Biology, University of St Andrews (Prof Keith T. Sillar)
  • 2001 - 2005: PhD, Department of Cellular Animal Physiology, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands (Prof Eric W. Roubos)
  • 1999 - 2001: Associate Lecturer, Qingdao University, China
  • 1996 - 1999: MSc, (Physiology) Qingdao University, China
  • 1991 - 1996: BSc, (General Medicine) Qingdao University, China

Research Theme



Vertebrate motor control networks initially assemble before movements begin and continue to develop until mature motor behaviour is in place. Many studies investigate locomotor control at different stages of development using model systems. However, how the spinal central pattern generators (CPGs) control rhythm generation still remains poorly understood. We use young Xenopus and zebrafish adult and larvae to study how their swimming CPGs work.

Compared to mammalians, the networks controlling swimming in Xenopus tadpole and zebrafish are simpler and experimentally more accessible. At the time of hatching (stage 37/38) Xenopus tadpoles are only able to generate limited motor outputs including swimming. All types of swimming CPG neurons at this stage have been described in details. Just 24 hours later, at stage 42, a much more flexible swimming behaviour appears. The spinal network must have developed quickly to support this change, but the detailed mechanisms are largely unknown. The transparent feature and ease for genetic manipulation of zebrafish have provided huge advantages to explore spinal circuits. For example, specific CPG neuron subtypes (e.g. mnx1+ neurons) can be genetically marked, viewed directly, and genetically manipulated.

Using these two model animals, we are able to monitor swimming activities (motor output) and simultaneously make in vivo patch-clamp recordings of individual neurons. This technique, together with other methods, enables us to investigate the following subjects: the development of spinal CPG neurons; how different rhythmic motor patterns are generated or modulated; and how spinal circuits recover following injuries. Results from simple animals like the Xenopus tadpole and zebrafish will provide critical insights into our understanding of more mature and complex mammalian motor systems.


Team Members

Previous Members

  • Florian Jacquot, Post-doctoral Research Fellow


Selected Publications