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Dr Hugh Robinson

My lab studies ion channels and neuron dynamics - how ionic conductances in the cell membrane shape the electrical activity, cellular physiology and pathophysiology of neurons in the mammalian brain. We use a combination of patch-clamp and optical recording techniques, cell culture and computational modelling.
Dr Hugh Robinson

University Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333828 Lab: 333835, Fax: 333840

Research Interests

Spike generation in the neocortex

We study how the biophysical properties and ion channel populations of interneurons and pyramidal neurons allow them to express particular patterns of firing. We have shown how fast-spiking inhibitory interneurons exhibit a hard “class 2” threshold, and how this determines their function in network oscillations, and their ability to synchronise with other neurons. We study the mechanisms of irregularity of spiking timing in interneurons: nonlinear dynamics of voltage-dependent ionic currents and the stochasticity of ion channels. We have developed and applied the conductance injection (dynamic clamp) technique to probe the function of membrane conductances in a controlled way.

Electrophysiology of human pluripotent stem-cell (hPSC) derived cortical neurons

Collaborating with Rick Livesey’s lab (Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge), we study the development of synaptic and voltage-dependent ionic currents, calcium signalling and firing properties in developing hPSC cortical neuron networks, as a model system for brain disease.

NMDA receptor gating

We study the gating of the NMDA type of synaptic glutamate receptor, a key signalling molecule at brain synapses. In particular, we have uncovered the details of the millisecond-scale timing of the voltage-dependent block of these channels by magnesium ions, which governs how they contribute to the excitability of neurons. We are interested in how NMDA receptors function as the membrane potential changes in an active neuron.


Ole Paulsen (PDN)
Rick Livesey (Gurdon Institute)
Bill Colledge (PDN)



Lectures in: 1B Neurobiology (Electrical Properties of Neurons); Part 2 PDN, Module N7 Cortical Networks

Key Publications

Spike generation in the neocortex

Zeberg H, Robinson HPC, Århem P, (2015), Density of voltage-gated potassium channels is a bifurcation parameter in pyramidal neurons, J. Neurophysiol, 113:537-49

Robinson HPC, (2013), Dynamic clamp - synthetic conductances and their influence on membrane potential, Encyclopedia of Biophysics, Springer, pp 527-533

Catterall WA, Raman IM, Robinson HPC, Sejnowski TJ, Paulsen O, (2012), The Hodgkin-Huxley heritage: from channels to circuits, J. Neurosci, 32:14064–14073

Gouwens NW, Zeberg H, Tsumoto K, Tateno T, Aihara K, Robinson HPC, (2010), Synchronization of firing in cortical fast-spiking interneurons at gamma frequencies: a phase-resetting analysis, PLoS Comp Biol, 6: e1000951

Tateno T, Robinson HPC (2009), Integration of broadband conductance input in rat somatosensory cortical inhibitory interneurons: an inhibition-controlled switch between intrinsic and input-driven spiking in fast-spiking cells, J Neurophysiol, 101: 1056-72

Morita K, Kalra R, Aihara K, Robinson HPC, (2008), Recurrent synaptic input and the timing of gamma-frequency-modulated firing of pyramidal cells during neocortical "UP" states, J Neurosci, 28: 1871-81

Electrophysiology of human pluripotent stem-cell (hPSC) derived cortical neurons

Kirwan P, Turner-Bridger B, Peter M, Momoh A, Arambepola D, Robinson HPC, Livesey FJ, (2015), Development and function of human cerebral cortex neural networks from pluripotent stem cells in vitro, Development, 142:3178-3187

Shi Y, Kirwan P, Smith J, Robinson HPC, Livesey FJ, (2012), Human cerebral cortex development from pluripotent stem cells to functional excitatory synapses, Nat Neurosci, 15: 477-86, S1

NMDA receptor gating

Kim N-K, Robinson HPC, (2011), Effects of divalent cations on slow unblock of native NMDA receptors in mouse neocortical pyramidal neurons, Eur J Neurosci, 34: 199-212

Vargas-Caballero M, Robinson HPC, (2004), Fast and slow voltage-dependent dynamics of magnesium block in the NMDA receptor: the asymmetric trapping block model, J Neurosci, 24: 6171-80

Computational modelling

Vella M, Cannon RC, Crook S, Davison AP, Ganapathy G, Robinson HPC, Silver RA, Gleeson P, (2014), libNeuroML and PyLEMS: using Python to combine procedural and declarative modeling approaches in computational neuroscience, Front Neuroinform, 8:38

Li X, Morita K, Robinson HPC, Small M, (2013), Control of layer 5 pyramidal cell spiking by oscillatory inhibition in the distal apical dendrites: a computational modeling study, J Neurophysiol, 109:2739-56

Above: Simultaneous recording of two synaptically-connected pyramidal neurons in layer 2/3 of cortex.
See Kleppe & Robinson, 2006

Above: Recording NMDA receptor current in a nucleated patch isolated from a pyramidal neuron (left pipette) while perfusing with a stream of NMDA-containing solution (right pipette). Photo: M. Vargas Caballero

Above: Principal exponential components of open-channel probability relaxations in the asymmetric trapping block (ATB model) of NMDA receptor gating, for step changes in membrane potential from V1 to V2. See Vargas-Caballero & Robinson, 2004