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Angela Roberts PhD

Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience
Tel: +44 (0)1223 333763, Fax: +44 (0)1223 333786, E-mail: acr4@cam.ac.uk

Neural and Neurochemical Basis of Cognitive and Emotional Behaviour

The prefrontal cortex is implicated in such human characteristics as volition, planning, decision making and affect. Frontal lobe damage can result in inflexible, habit-dominated behaviour, poor planning ability as well as social and emotional dysregulation. Not only are these cognitive and emotional deficits associated with gross damage to the prefrontal cortex but they have also been reported in a variety of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders, clinical conditions associated with abnormal prefrontal activity.

Our research is directed towards understanding (1) the functional organisation within the prefrontal cortex, (2) how the prefrontal cortex interacts with the rest of the brain to provide executive control over behaviour, focusing in particular on its associations with the basal ganglia, amygdala and hippocampus, (3) the role of the non-specific arousal pathways (monoaminergic and cholinergic) in the modulation of prefronto-striatal-amygdala circuits.


Our experimental approach combines neuropsychological, neurochemical and neuroimaging techniques with behavioural tests that tax cognitive and emotional processing. Since many of these behavioural tests can be administered to patients, our results directly extrapolate to the clinical setting. In addition, genetic screening is allowing us to discover gene variants that give rise to altered gene regulation, individual differences in emotion and cognition, and functional changes in brain networks. Such studies provide us with a fundamental understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying higher cognitive and emotional behaviour and give insight into the circuitry that may be dysregulated in a variety of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders including the anxiety and mood disorders.

Lab members
Dr Hannah Clarke, MRC Research Fellow
Dr Andrea Santangelo, Research Associate
Dr Nicole Horst, Research Associate
Dr Yoshiro Shiba, Research Associate
Miss Chloe Wallis, Graduate student (PhD)
Miss Stacey Jackson, Graduate student (PhD)
Mrs Gemma Cockroft, Research Technician
Professor Jorge Zeredo, Visiting Scholar from University of Brasilia, Brasil.

Main collaborators
Prof Trevor W Robbins (Psychology, Cambridge)
Prof Barry J Everitt (Psychology, Cambridge) 
Prof Barbara Sahakian (Psychiatry, Cambridge)
Dr Jeff Dalley (Psychology, Cambridge)
Dr Luke Clarke (Psychology, Cambridge)
Prof Anne Ferguson-Smith (Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Cambridge)
Dr Elliot Stein and Dr Annabelle Belcher (NIDA, Baltimore, USA)
Dr Afonso Silva (NINDS, NIH, Bethesda, USA)

Main sources of funding: The Wellcome Trust, MRC, McDonnell Pew Foundation

Selected publications
Agustín-Pavón C., Braesicke K., Shiba Y., Santangelo A.M., Mikheenko Y., Cockroft G., Asma F., Clarke H., Man M., Roberts A.C. (2012) Lesions of ventrolateral prefrontal or anterior orbitofrontal cortex in primates heighten negative emotion. Biological Psychiatry 72:266-272.

Hampshire A., Chaudry A.M., Owen A.M., Roberts A.C. (2012) Dissociable roles for lateral orbitofrontal cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex during preference driven reversal learning. Neuroimage 59:4102-4112.

Roberts A.C. (2011) The importance of serotonin for orbitofrontal function. Biological Psychiatry 69:1185-1191.

Clarke H.F., Hill G.J., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2011) Dopamine, but not serotonin, regulates reversal learning in the marmoset caudate nucleus. Journal of Neuroscience 31:4290-4297.

Mikheenko Y., Man M-S., Braesicke K., Johns M.E., Hill G., Agustín-Pavón C., Roberts, A.C. (2010) Autonomic, behavioural and neural analyses of mild conditioned negative affect in the common marmoset. Behavioural Neuroscience 124:192-203.

Rygula R., Walker S., Clarke H., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2010) Differential contributions of the primate ventrolateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex to serial reversal learning. Journal of Neuroscience 30:14552-14559.

Walker S.C., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2009) Response disengagement on a spatial self-ordered sequencing task: effects of regionally selective excitotoxic lesions and serotonin depletion within the prefrontal Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience 29:6033-6041.

Walker S.C., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2009) Differential contributions of dopamine and serotonin to orbitofrontal cortex function in the marmoset. Cerebral Cortex 19:889-898.

Man M.S., Clarke H.F., Roberts A.C. (2009) The role of the orbitofrontal cortex and medial striatum in the regulation of prepotent responses to food rewards. Cerebral Cortex 19:899-906.

Reekie Y.L., Braesicke K., Man M., Roberts A.C. (2008) Uncoupling of behavioral and autonomic responses following lesions of the primate orbitofrontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:9787-9792.

Clarke H.F., Walker S.C., Dalley J.W., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2007) Cognitive inflexibility after prefrontal serotonin depletion is behaviourally and neurochemically specific. Cerebral Cortex 17:18-27.

Roberts A.C., Reekie Y., Braesicke, K. (2007) Synergistic and regulatory effects of orbitofrontal cortex on amygdala-dependent appetitive behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1121:297-319.

Clarke H.F., Dalley J.W., Crofts H.S., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2004) Cognitive inflexibility after prefrontal serotonin depletion. Science 7:878-880.

Arana F.S., Parkinson J.A., Hinton E., Holland A.J., Owen A.M., Roberts A.C. (2003) Dissociable contributions of the human amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex to incentive motivation and goal selection. Journal of Neuroscience 23:9632-9638.

Crofts H.S., Dalley J.W., Collins P., Van Denderen J.C.M., Everitt B.J., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (2001) Differential effects of 6-OHDA lesions of the frontal cortex and caudate nucleus on the ability to acquire an attentional set. Cerebral Cortex 11:1015-1026.

Dias R., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (1997) Dissociable forms of inhibitory control within prefrontal cortex with an analogue of the Wisconsin Card Sort Test: restriction to novel situations and independence from 'on-line' processing. J. Neuroscience 17:9285-9297.

Dias R., Robbins T.W., Roberts A.C. (1996) Dissociation in prefrontal cortex of affective and attentional shifting. Nature 380:69-72.

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Above: Serotonin innervation of orbitofrontal cortex.


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Above: High Resolution structural MR images of the developing brain. Right hand column shows map of volume changes using tensor-based morphometry.

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Above: Reduced Serotonin 2A receptor binding in the anterior insula associated with increased anxiety and genetic variation in the serotonin transporter.

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Above: Altanserin (5-HT2a receptor) binding across the cortex. [Picture courtesy of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre]