Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
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Prof Richard Ribchester

My research is concerned with the development, plasticity, degeneration, and regeneration of neuromuscular connections.

Richard Ribchester

Professor of Cellular Neuroscience

  • 1 George Square
  • Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ

Contact details

Personal profile

I obtained a BSc with Joint Honours in Chemistry and Zoology from the University of Durham in 1974 and a PhD in Experimental Neurology from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1977.

I did postdoctoral research between 1977 and 1979 at the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver, and between 1979 and 1980 at the Institute of Physiology, University of Oslo.

I was appointed Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Edinburgh in 1980, then Senior Lecturer, then Reader in Neuroscience, and in 2005 to a Personal Chair in Cellular Neuroscience.

I was awarded a DSc by the University of Edinburgh in 2005 for my contributions to research on the Development and Plasticity of Neuromuscular Innervation.

I developed and directed the postgraduate course leading to MSc in Neuroscience from 1994-2004, and I was Head of Postgraduate Training in the Centre for Neuroscience Research from 2000-2005.

I was an Editor of the Journal of Physiology from 1986-93 (Distributing Editor between 1988-90), a member of the national Committee of the Physiological Society from 1994-98, and I served on the national Committee of the British Neuroscience Association from 2002-2005.

I was a founder member of the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research and its Acting Director from 2006-2008.

With the support of a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Leave Fellowship, I spent 2007-2008 on sabbatical leave, conducting collaborative research and learning new techniques with colleagues at:

  • the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, Harwell (mutagenesis screen for synaptic protection phenotypes)
  • the Babraham Institute (characterization of phenotype in WldS mouse transgenics with enhanced synaptic protection phenotypes)
  • Harvard Medical School in Boston (learning Drosophila genetics, cell biology and larval electrophysiology)
Drosophila intracelluar recording
Intracellular recording showing spontaneous and evoked synaptic potentials in a larval Drosophila muscle fibre.

Research Theme

Synapses, Circuits and Behaviour

Research

I study the physiological mechanisms of synapses and their functions in health, after injury and in neurodegenerative disease. I focus on neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) as an accessible paradigm.

Neuromuscular synapses degenerate naturally, by a process of controlled elimination during development or regeneration; they are also the first components of a motor axon to degenerate after nerve injury; and the first structures to disconnect from motor neurones in several forms of neurodegenerative disease, including Motor Neurone Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS).

My group combines electrophysiological, molecular and imaging techniques to study how different forms of synaptic degeneration are triggered and executed. I also investigate the mechanisms that regulate synaptic strength, to identify ways that may enhance compensatory physiological functions of synapses (plasticity).

Our current research projects include investigation of mechanisms of organophosphorus insecticide toxicity at NMJ; development and application of a live imaging technique, fibre-optic confocal endomicroscopy, for early detection and monitoring of motor neurone degeneration; and genetic regulation of synaptic strength, using larval Drosophila NMJ as a model synapse.

immunostain of a neuromuscular junction
Immunostain of a neuromuscular junction.

Our research is relevant to understanding not only ALS but, potentially, other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease as well.

Funding

Team members

  • Dr Kosala Dissanayake (Postdoctoral Fellow)
  • Dr Cornelia Roesl (Postdoctoral Fellow)
  • Mr Robert Chou (Research Assistant/Technician)
  • Mr Filip Margetiny (PhD Student)
  • Mr William Miller (Technical assistant)

Collaborations

  • Professor Michael Eddleston , Edinburgh University
  • Professor R Eddie Clutton, Edinburgh University
  • Professor Thomas Gillingwater, Edinburgh University
  • Professor Jane Hillston, Edinburgh University
  • Dr Paul Skehel, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University
  • Professor Michael Coleman, Brain Repair Centre, Cambridge University
  • Dr Sean Sweeney, York University
  • Professor Gregory Lnenicka, Albany University, USA

Publications

Recent: Jones RA, Reich CD, Dissanayake KN, Kristmundsdottir F, Findlater GS, Ribchester RR, Simmen MW, Gillingwater TH. (2016) NMJ-morph reveals principal components of synaptic morphology influencing structure-function relationships at the neuromuscular junction. Open Biol. Dec;6(12). pii: 160240.

Powers AS, Grizzaffi J, Ribchester R, Lnenicka GA. Regulation of quantal currents determines synaptic strength at neuromuscular synapses in larval Drosophila. (2016) Pflugers Arch. Nov;468(11-12):2031-2040.  

Di Stefano M, Nascimento-Ferreira I, Orsomando G, Mori V, Gilley J, Brown R, Janeckova L, Vargas ME, Worrell LA, Loreto A, Tickle J, Patrick J, Webster JR, Marangoni M, Carpi FM, Pucciarelli S, Rossi F, Meng W, Sagasti A, Ribchester RR,  Magni G, Coleman MP, Conforti L.(2015)  A rise in NAD precursor nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) after injury promotes axon degeneration. Cell Death Differ. May;22(5):731-42.

Brown R, Hynes-Allen A, Swan AJ, Dissanayake KN, Gillingwater TH, Ribchester RR. (2015) Activity-dependent degeneration of axotomized neuromuscular synapses in WldS mice. Neuroscience. Apr 2;290:300-20.;

Brown R, Dissanayake KN, Skehel PA, Ribchester RR. (2014) Endomicroscopy and electromyography of neuromuscular junctions in situ. Ann Clin Transl Neurol. Nov;1(11):867-83.

Selected earlier publications

Ribchester RR. (2011) Quantal Analysis of Endplate Potentials in Mouse Flexor Digitorum Brevis Muscle. Curr Protoc Mouse Biol. Dec 1;1(4):429-44.

Court FA, Gillingwater TH, Melrose S, Sherman DL, Greenshields KN, Morton AJ,  Harris JB, Willison HJ, Ribchester RR.(2008)  Identity, developmental restriction and reactivity of extralaminar cells capping mammalian neuromuscular junctions. J Cell Sci. Dec 1;121(Pt 23):3901-11.  

Ribchester RR, Thomson D, Wood NI, Hinks T, Gillingwater TH, Wishart TM, Court FA, Morton AJ. (2004) Progressive abnormalities in skeletal muscle and neuromuscular junctions of transgenic mice expressing the Huntington's disease mutation. Eur J  Neurosci. Dec;20(11):3092-114.

Gillingwater TH, Ribchester RR. (2001) Compartmental neurodegeneration and synaptic plasticity in the Wld(s) mutant mouse. J Physiol. Aug 1;534(Pt 3):627-39.

Costanzo EM, Barry JA, Ribchester RR. (2000) Competition at silent synapses in reinnervated skeletal muscle. Nat Neurosci. Jul;3(7):694-700.