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Frank Sengpiel  FLSW, DPhil Oxon

Professor Frank Sengpiel FLSW, DPhil Oxon

Head of Neuroscience Division, Professor of Neuroscience

School of Biosciences

+44 29208 75698
Sir Martin Evans Building, Room Life 0.08, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Available for postgraduate supervision


We study development and plasticity of the primary visual cortex (V1) and the physiological and molecular basis of common developmental disorders of vision such as lazy eye as well as neurodevelopmental disorders such as Fragile X and Timothy Syndrome. We are also interested in visual processing in higher visual areas and its relation to behavioural responses. Visuospatial processing and spatial memory in the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) is another major focus of research in our lab. Using two-photon calcium imaging we visualise the activity of individual neurons in the brain regions of interest and track them over time.


  • Head of Division: Head of Neuroscience Division
  • Module  Lead: BI3452 - Systems Neuroscience
  • Academic Team Leader.

Interested in joining my lab as a self-funded post-graduate student or a postdoc/fellow? Please contact me by email.


























We study the mechanisms of normal development and plasticity of the primary visual cortex (V1) and the physiological and molecular basis of common developmental disorders of vision such as amblyopia (lazy eye). Specifically, we examine the effects of various rearing regimens on the two principal response characteristics of neurons in V1, binocularity and orientation selectivity. Research over the past 20 years has identified a large number of molecules and pathways that are involved in developmental plasticity as well as in the regulation of the critical period during which the cortex is particularly susceptible to being shaped by sensory experience and indeed requires appropriate experience to develop normally. Gene defects affecting some of the associated proteins have been shown to cause neurodevelopmental disorders such as Fragile X. We study developmental plasticity in V1 in models of those disorders using functional brain imaging methods, namely optical imaging of intrinsic signals and two-photon laser scanning microscopy.

Recognising that neuronal responses in V1 frequently fail to account for behavioural responses of the animals we are investigating higher visual areas and their feedback projections to V1, and relate those to the choices mice make in visual discrimination tasks. We are also interested in the contributions of input from the cingulate cortex to layer 1 of V1 to visually guided behaviour.

Recently, visuospatial processing and spatial memory in the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) has become a major focus of research in our lab. The RSC has emerged as a key brain area supporting episodic and topographical memory in humans as well as spatial memory in rodents. Using in vivo 2-photon imaging to analyse patterns of activity of neurons within dysgranular RSC of mice trained on a spatial memory task, we showed the gradual emergence of a context-specific pattern of neuronal activity over a 3-week period, which was re-instated upon retrieval more than 3 weeks later. The stability of this memory engram was predictive of the degree of forgetting; more stable engrams were associated with better performance, demonstrating the participation of the RSC in spatial memory storage at the level of neuronal ensembles.

Active Grants

BBSRC Project Grant

Integrating and storing visuo-spatial cues in the retrosplenial cortex (PI)

MRC Programme Grant

Cortical feedback circuits for sensory integration and control of synaptic plasticity (CoI)

Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD programme

Integrative Neuroscience (CoI).


Adam Ranson, Cardiff University, School of Medicine

John Aggleton, Cardiff University, School of Psychology

Seralynne Vann, Cardiff University, School of Psychology

Kevin Fox, Cardiff University, School of Biosciences

Mark Good, Cardiff University, School of Psychology

Marcela Votruba, Cardiff University, School of Optometry & Vision Sciences

James Morgan, Cardiff University, School of Optometry & Vision Sciences

Seth Grant, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Donald Mitchell, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.

Research team members

Stephanie Bagstaff, Fangli Chen, Rosie Craddock, Bethany Frost, Haamed Al Hassan.


I teach on the following modules:

BI3452, Systems Neuroscience

BI2431, Brain & Behaviour

BI4002, Advanced Research Methods


  • Diploma in Biology, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany (1989)
  • DPhil in Physiology, University of Oxford (1994)
  • Junior Research Fellow, Magdalen College, Oxford (1993-1996)
  • Research Fellow, Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Munich (1996-2000).

Professional memberships

Honorary Treasurer of the Physiological Society:


I am the academic lead for public engagement of the Neuroscience & Mental Health Research Institute. Among other things, I have instigated the participation of Cardiff University in the annual Brain Awareness Week (BAW) and have talked on BBC Radio Wales about the brain in the run-up to this event. I have organised an annual public lecture in neuroscience since 2010. I also take part in the annual "Learn about Life" event aimed at primary school children. Finally, I have initiated participation in the annual international Brain Bee competition (aimed at senior secondary school pupils, GCSE to A level), for which the first Welsh championship was held in 2011.

Since 2013 the biggest engagement event has been the Brain Games held at the National Museum during BAW. The Brain Games – originally funded by a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science award - is a competitive event aimed at 8-11 year olds, where children collect points for taking part in a number of brain-related activities that show an aspect of the brain studied at Cardiff. Prior to the event, we run assemblies in local primary schools. We are planning to repeat the Brain Games every year in March, and to take our assembly to every primary school in the Cardiff area.