Research

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I explore the brain systems supporting learning, memory, cognition and decision-making and the brain systems affected by stress, anxiety, depression and motivation. Many of my papers can be downloaded here.

I am also very interested in the policy implications of the behavioural and brain sciences, and have several forthcoming papers with various colleagues on these topics. My books have similarly taken a ‘brain in the world‘ perspective, rather than a ‘functions in the brain’ approach.

I hold a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award with Professor John Aggleton at Cardiff University.

The cognitive thalamus: more than a relay. Research on the biological basis of episodic memory has traditionally focused on the functioning of the hippocampus, a brain structure in the medial temporal lobe. Professors Aggleton and O’Mara are interested in studying how other brain areas play important roles in the formation, maintenance and recall of episodic memories. They are particularly interested in the thalamus, a structure in the middle of the brain. Their recent research has shown that neurons in the thalamus signal multiple types of spatial information, providing new insight into why this area might be so critical for memory. Professors Aggleton and O’Mara plan to elucidate the path that spatial information travels to reach the thalamus and to determine the impact of thalamic neurons on spatial memories. This work could help explain how networks of brain areas beyond the medial temporal lobes work with the hippocampus to shape memory.

I hold a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator award:

The role of the claustrum as a mediator between cortical and subcortical processing. Discrete populations of brain cells signal differing types of spatial information. These “spatial cells” are largely confined to a closely-connected network of sites. We describe here, for the first time, cells in the anterior claustrum of the freely-moving rat encoding place, boundary and object information. This novel claustral spatial signal potentially directly modulates a wide variety of anterior cortical regions. We hypothesize that one of the functions of the claustrum is to provide information about body position, boundaries and landmark information, enabling dynamic control of behavior.

Research Support and Research Funding:

My research work has been or currently is supported by the Wellcome TrustScience Foundation Ireland; the Health Research Board; the European CommissionGlaxoSmithKlineAlkermes.