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Investigating novel gene function in neurodegeneration and behaviour

Investigating novel gene function in the cns
Neuromuscular junctions in a mouse model of ALS (Matthew Wiliamson)

Stress response mechanisms in neurodegeneration

Neurodegenerative disease is becoming an increasing burden on healthcare and there is a continuing need to understand the cellular mechanisms involved and generate new therapeutic approaches. One important question to address is why distinct populations of neurons are vulnerable in these disorders despite widespread expression of the proteins involved. In recent years there has been a particular focus on the role of reactive oxygen species as factors that mediate the differential susceptibility of neurons. Indeed, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction have been implicated in all major neurodegenerative disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, several pathogenic mutations in proteins that feature prominently in antioxidant pathways have been described in these disorders. Therefore, identification of pathways that counteract oxidative damage may identify new therapeutic strategies that are widely applicable to human disease.

As part of my research in the MRC Functional Genomics Unit, I identified the importance of the mitochondrial oxidation resistance 1 (Oxr1) gene for neuronal survival; loss of Oxr1 causes neurodegeneration in mice, whereas over-expression in vitro is able to confer protection against oxidative stress. Deregulation of this protein is also observed in human ALS and additional mouse models of neurodegeneration. Despite the apparent high level of evolutionary conservation of Oxr1-related proteins, virtually nothing is known about their role in vivo. My current research program aims to understand the function of this family of proteins using both neuronal cell culture, mouse models of disease as well as human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

Gene x environment interactions in mental health

As well as a well-documented genetic component to human psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, both pre- and post-natal environmental factors play a significant role. How this ‘gene x environment’ interaction takes place is still unclear; however, work in mouse models is beginning to examine this phenomenon in more detail. I have a long-standing interest in this area, as well as studying the role of sleep and circadian rhythms as an important feature of psychiatric disease. I collaborate with groups within the University that study mouse mutants representing known pathways disrupted in schizophrenia and investigate how non-genetic factors can influence brain function and behaviour.

Our team

Selected publications

funding  / internship opportunities

My research group has now moved full-time to MRC Harwell although I remain a member of the Department

Current funding

European Research Council

Motor Neuron Disease Association

Oxford Brain@McGill Neuroscience Partnership

Medical Research Council

Epilepsy Research UK

Latest news

MaY 2018

New paper from our group describing the role of Oxr1 in glycolytic metabolism:

April 2017

Peter has been nominated for an Outstanding Graduate Supervision Award at the annual Oxford University Teaching Awards:

JAnuary 2017

Post-doctoral position (3-year MRC Career Development Fellowship) is currently being advertised in the group as part of a new programme of work with MRC Harwell. For more details see:


PhD studentships - October 2017 entry are currently being advertised for a potential project in the Oliver group at MRC Harwell. For more details see:

november 2016

Peter has been awarded an MRC Programme Grant to continue studying the molecular function of the TLDc family of proteins using a combination of mouse genetics and cell biology. Advertisements for new post-doc positions will be released in January 2017.

July 2016

Welcome to Julia Grasegger and Joery den Hoed who are joining the group this month and later this year for research placements 

APRIL 2016

Science animation project Silent Signal is released - including collaboration between Peter Oliver and animator Ellie Land called 'Sleepless'

for more information see:

or watch the animation here:

MArch 2016

New paper from the group examining the function of Oxr1 in mitochondria is in press:

November 2015

New paper from the group identifying the detailed transcriptional profile of the suprachiasmatic nucleus by RNAseq for the first time is in press in eLife:

may 2015

Congratulations to Mattea Finelli in the group has been awarded the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Junior Research Fellowship at St Edmund Hall

Related research themes