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Dr Christopher Heath

Profile summary

Research interests

Translational Neuroscience Research Group – Closing the Gap

The conversion of promising findings from the research laboratory into effective clinical treatments for neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric illnesses is very challenging. One element of the process that can be improved is the capability to readily translate between the assessments used to evaluate the effects of a potential therapeutic intervention on cognitive processes in model systems and those used in patients.  

Recent developments in touchscreen computing have enabled the generation of a new approach to cognitive assessment based on the presentation of and interaction with sequences of visual stimuli that can be readily administered across model systems and clinical populations.

A major objective of the laboratory is the application of this approach to various models of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric illness and corresponding clinical populations to provide a consistent platform for model validation and novel therapeutic screening. The group is also working to develop, optimise and validate new touchscreen-based assessments to enable the study of additional cognitive domains with a focus on motivation, cost-benefit decision making and emotional state regulation. Another goal is to apply the technical and procedural advantages of this methodology to non-disease related areas, including routine welfare monitoring and circadian rhythm biology.


Current research in the group includes:

  1. Development and validation of a new battery of touchscreen-based assessments for the routine evaluation of motivation and affective state
  2. Touchscreen-based assessment for evaluating the impact of circadian rhythm disruption on cognitive performance
  3. Assessment of the persistent consequences of poor maternal diet and maternal smoking on offspring cognition
  4. Investigating the neurobiological correlates of apathy in Huntington’s disease


Group members:

Chris Heath (Group Leader – Lecturer in Health Sciences)

Emily Breese (PhD student)

Peter Carr (Visiting undergraduate; December 2016)


External collaborations

OU Collaborators:

Cheryl Hawkes and Laura Contu


UK Collaborators:

Martin Thirkettle, Sheffield Hallam University

Claire O’Callaghan, University of Cambridge

Laura Lopez-Cruz, University of Cambridge

Ben Phillips, University of Cambridge


International Collaborators:

Tim Bussey and Lisa Saksida, University of Western Ontario, Canada

Eosu Kim, Yonsei University, Korea

Externally funded projects

Neuronal encoding of flexible reward-seeking and rigid reward-taking
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator05 Oct 201804 Sep 2019The Royal Society

Self-administration models of addiction typically require animals to make the same response over and over to procure and take drugs. By their design, such procedures often produce behaviour controlled by habits. This has supported the notion of addiction as a “drug habit”, and has led to considerable advances in understanding the neurobiological basis of such behaviour. While drug-taking involves habitual behaviours, the initial procurement of drugs may require considerable flexibility in seeking behaviour which, by definition, is not habitual. The proposed studies model this pattern of flexible reward-seeking and rigid reward-taking, requiring mice to solve a new puzzle every day to gain access to reward. Across weeks of observation, we will use photometry to watch real-time neuronal activity in the brain while rats seek and take reward. These biopsychological experiments provide the foundation for work in our new laboratory, which we hope will impact how people view and treat addictions.

Postgraduate Research and Professional Development - Morgane Colom
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201830 Sep 2021King's College London (KCLU)

£10k for consumables from King's College London, collaboration with Dr Ellie Dommett. For Morgane Colom's studentship.

TRANSFER IN: Development and validation of a rodent touchscreen battery for assessing motivation and affective state
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Apr 201631 Mar 2019NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research)

The focus of this project is to develop and validate a series of non-invasive behavioural assessments for laboratory rodents that will enable routine evaluation of motivation and affective state. These assays will be designed with a lower severity band (refinement) and require fewer animals (reduction) than current methods.


Coexistence of perseveration and apathy in the TDP-43Q331K knock-in mouse model of ALS-FTD (2020)
Kim, Eosu; White, Matthew A.; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; Kim, Hyunjeong; Heath, Christopher J.; Lee, Jong Eun; Saksida, Lisa M.; Sreedharan, Jemeen and Bussey, Timothy J.
Translational Psychiatry ((In Press))

Coexistence of perseveration and apathy in the TDP-43Q331K knock-in mouse model of ALS–FTD (2020)
Kim, Eosu; White, Matthew A.; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; Kim, Hyunjeong; Heath, Christopher J.; Lee, Jong Eun; Saksida, Lisa M.; Sreedharan, Jemeen and Bussey, Timothy J.
Translational Psychiatry, 10, Article 377(1)

A touchscreen motivation assessment evaluated in Huntington’s disease patients and R6/1 model mice (2019-08-09)
Heath, Christopher; O'Callaghan, Claire; Mason, Sarah L; Phillips, Benjamin U; Saksida, Lisa M; Robbins, Trevor W; Barker, Roger A; Bussey, Timothy J and Sahakian, Barbara J
Frontiers in Neurology, 10, Article 858

Blockade of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors facilitates motivated behaviour and rescues a model of antipsychotic-induced amotivation (2019-05)
Hailwood, Jonathan M.; Heath, Christopher J.; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Robbins, Trevor W.; Saksida, Lisa M. and Bussey, Timothy J.
Neuropsychopharmacology, 44 (pp. 1068-1075)

Assessment of mGluR5 KO mice under conditions of low stress using a rodent touchscreen apparatus reveals impaired behavioural flexibility driven by perseverative responses (2019-04-11)
Lim, Jisoo; Kim, Eosu; Noh, Hyun Jong; Kang, Shinwon; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Kim, Dong Goo; Bussey, Timothy J.; Saksida, Lisa M.; Heath, Christopher J. and Kim, Chul Hoon
Molecular Brain, 12, Article 37

Pre- and postnatal high fat feeding differentially affects the structure and integrity of the neurovascular unit of 16-month old male and female mice (2019)
Contu, Laura; Nizari, Shereen; Heath, Christopher J. and Hawkes, Cheryl A.
Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, Article 1045

Continuous performance test impairment in a 22q11.2 microdeletion mouse model: improvement by amphetamine (2018-11-14)
Nilsson, Simon R.O.; Heath, Christopher J.; Takillah, Samir; Didienne, Steve; Fejgin, Kim; Nielsen, Vibeke; Nielsen, Jacob; Saksida, Lisa M.; Mariani, Jean; Faure, Philippe; Didriksen, Michael; Robbins, Trevor W.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Mar, Adam C.
Translational Psychiatry, 8, Article 247

Validation and optimisation of a touchscreen progressive ratio test of motivation in male rats (2018-09-30)
Hailwood, Jonathan M.; Heath, Christopher J.; Robbins, Trevor W.; Saksida, Lisa M. and Bussey, Timothy J.
Psychopharmacology, 235(9) (pp. 2739-2753)

Selective effects of 5-HT2C receptor modulation on performance of a novel valence-probe visual discrimination task and probabilistic reversal learning in mice (2018-07)
Phillips, Benjamin U.; Dewan, Sigma; Nilsson, Simon R. O.; Robbins, Trevor W.; Heath, Christopher J.; Saksida, Lisa M.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Alsiö, Johan
Psychopharmacology, 235(7) (pp. 2101-2111)

Longitudinal evaluation of Tau-P301L transgenic mice reveals no cognitive impairments at 17 months of age (2018-01-29)
Kent, Brianne A.; Heath, Christopher J.; Kim, Chi Hun; Ahrens, Rosemary; Fraser, Paul E.; St George-Hyslop, Peter; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Brain and Behavior, 8, Article e00896(1)

Translational approaches to evaluating motivation in laboratory rodents: conventional and touchscreen-based procedures (2018)
Phillips, Benjamin U.; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; Hailwood, Jonathan; Heath, Christopher J.; Saksida, Lisa M. and Bussey, Timothy J.
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 22 (pp. 21-27)

Optimisation of cognitive performance in rodent operant (touchscreen) testing: Evaluation and effects of reinforcer strength (2017-09)
Phillips, Benjamin U.; Heath, Christopher J.; Ossowska, Zofia; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Learning and Behavior, 45(3) (pp. 252-262)

Accumbal cholinergic interneurons differentially influence motivation related to satiety signaling (2017-04-30)
Aitta-aho, Teemu; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Pappa, Elpiniki; Hay, Y. Audrey; Harnischfeger, Fiona; Heath, Christopher J.; Saksida, Lisa M.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Apergis-Schoute, John
eNeuro, 4, Article e0328-16(2)

Optimizing reproducibility of operant testing through reinforcer standardization: identification of key nutritional constituents determining reward strength in touchscreens (2017)
Kim, Eun Woo; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Heath, Christopher J.; Cho, So Yeon; Kim, Hyunjeong; Sreedharan, Jemeen; Song, Ho-Taek; Lee, Jong Eun; Bussey, Timothy J.; Kim, Chul Hoon; Kim, Eosu and Saksida, Lisa M.
Molecular Brain, 10, Article 31

A mouse model of the 15q13.3 microdeletion syndrome shows prefrontal neurophysiological dysfunctions and attentional impairment. (2016-06-30)
Nilsson, Simon R. O.; Celada, Pau; Fejgin, Kim; Thelin, Jonas; Nielsen, Jacob; Santana, Noemí; Heath, Christopher J.; Larsen, Peter H.; Nielsen, Vibeke; Kent, Brianne A.; Saksida, Lisa M.; Stensbøl, Tine B.; Robbins, Trevor W.; Bastlund, Jesper F.; Bussey, Timothy J.; Artigas, Francesc and Didriksen, Michael

An epigenetic mechanism mediates developmental nicotine effects on neuronal structure and behavior (2016-05-30)
Jung, Yonwoo; Hsieh, Lawrence S.; Lee, Angela M.; Zhou, Zhifeng; Coman, Daniel; Heath, Christopher J.; Hyder, Fahmeed; Mineur, Yann S; Yuan, Qiaoping; Goldman, David; Bordey, Angelique and Picciotto, Marina R
Nature Neuroscience, 19(7) (pp. 905-914)

Motivational assessment of mice using the touchscreen operant testing system: effects of dopaminergic drugs (2015-11-01)
Heath, Christopher J.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Psychopharmacology, 232(21) (pp. 4043-4057)

Facilitation of spatial working memory performance following intra-prefrontal cortical administration of the adrenergic alpha1 agonist phenylephrine. (2015-11)
Hvoslef-Eide, Martha; Oomen, C. A.; Fisher, B. M.; Heath, C. J.; Robbins, T. W.; Saksida, L. M. and Bussey, T. J.
Psychopharmacology, 232(21) (pp. 4005-4016)

Trial-unique, delayed nonmatching-to-location (TUNL) touchscreen testing for mice: sensitivity to dorsal hippocampal dysfunction. (2015-11)
Kim, Chi Hun; Romberg, Carola; Hvoslef-Eide, Martha; Oomen, Charlotte A.; Mar, Adam C.; Heath, Christopher J.; Berthiaume, Andrée-Anne; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Psychopharmacology, 232(21) (pp. 3935-3945)

The role of the dorsal hippocampus in two versions of the touchscreen automated paired associates learning (PAL) task for mice. (2015-11)
Kim, Chi Hun; Heath, Christopher J.; Kent, Brianne A.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Psychopharmacology, 232(21) (pp. 3899-3910)

The NEWMEDS rodent touchscreen test battery for cognition relevant to schizophrenia (2015-07-24)
Hvoslef-Eide, M.; Mar, A. C.; Nilsson, S. R. O.; Alsiö, J.; Heath, C. J.; Saksida, L. M.; Robbins, T. W. and Bussey, T. J.

The touchscreen operant platform for testing working memory and pattern separation in rats and mice. (2013-10)
Oomen, Charlotte A.; Hvoslef-Eide, Martha; Heath, Christopher J.; Mar, Adam C.; Horner, Alexa E.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Nature Protocols, 8(10) (pp. 2006-2021)

The touchscreen operant platform for testing learning and memory in rats and mice. (2013-10)
Horner, Alexa E.; Heath, Christopher J.; Hvoslef-Eide, Martha; Kent, Brianne A.; Kim, Chi Hun; Nilsson, Simon R. O.; Alsiö, Johan; Oomen, Charlotte A.; Holmes, Andrew; Saksida, Lisa M. and Bussey, Timothy J.
Nature Protocols, 8(10) (pp. 1961-84)

False recognition in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease: rescue with sensory restriction and memantine. (2012-07)
Romberg, Carola; McTighe, Stephanie M.; Heath, Christopher J.; Whitcomb, Daniel J.; Cho, Kwangwook; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
Brain : a journal of neurology, 135(7) (pp. 2103-2114)

Impaired auditory discrimination learning following perinatal nicotine exposure or β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit deletion (2012-05-16)
Horst, Nicole K.; Heath, Christopher J.; Neugebauer, Nichole M.; Kimchi, Eyal Y.; Laubach, Mark and Picciotto, Marina R.
Behavioural Brain Research, 231(1) (pp. 170-180)

Oral nicotine consumption does not affect maternal care or early development in mice but results in modest hyperactivity in adolescence. (2010-12-02)
Heath, Christopher J.; Horst, Nicole K. and Picciotto, Marina R.
Physiology & behavior, 101(5) (pp. 764-769)

Cortico-Thalamic Connectivity is Vulnerable to Nicotine Exposure During Early Postnatal Development through α4/β2/α5 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors (2010-11)
Heath, Christopher J.; King, Sarah L.; Gotti, Cecilia; Marks, Michael J. and Picciotto, Marina R.
Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(12) (pp. 2324-2338)

Allelic variation of calsyntenin 2 (CLSTN2) modulates the impact of developmental tobacco smoke exposure on mnemonic processing in adolescents. (2009-04-15)
Jacobsen, Leslie K.; Picciotto, Marina R.; Heath, Christopher J.; Mencl, W. Einar and Gelernter, Joel
Biological Psychiatry, 65(8) (pp. 671-679)

Nicotine-induced plasticity during development: modulation of the cholinergic system and long-term consequences for circuits involved in attention and sensory processing. (2009)
Heath, Christopher J. and Picciotto, Marina R.
Neuropharmacology, 56(Sup 1) (pp. 254-262)

Prenatal and Adolescent Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Modulates the Development of White Matter Microstructure (2007-12-05)
Jacobsen, Leslie K.; Picciotto, Marina R.; Heath, Christopher; Frost, Stephen J.; Tsou, Kristen A.; Dwan, Rita A.; Jackowski, Marcel P.; Constable, Robert T. and Mencl, W. Einar
The Journal of Neuroscience, 27(49) (pp. 13491-13498)

Nicotine-induced phosphorylation of ERK in mouse primary cortical neurons: evidence for involvement of glutamatergic signaling and CaMKII. (2007-10)
Steiner, Rebecca C.; Heath, Christopher J. and Picciotto, Marina R.
Journal of Neurochemistry, 103(2) (pp. 666-78)

Measuring Motivation and Reward-Related Decision Making in the Rodent Operant Touchscreen System. (2016-01-04)
Heath, Christopher J.; Phillips, Benjamin U.; Bussey, Timothy J. and Saksida, Lisa M.
In: Gerfen, Charles R.; Holmes, Andrew; Sibley, David; Skolnick, Phil and Wray, Susan eds. Current Protocols in Neuroscience (pp. 8.34.1-8.34.20)
ISBN : 9780471142300 | Publisher : John Wiley & Sons | Published : Chichester