University of St Andrews

this person is a member of the
School of Psychology and Neuroscience

Dr Wenchang Li
Royal Society University Research Fellow

Bute Building
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9TS

Our research uses young Xenopus laevis tadpoles as a simple model system to study the basic neuronal mechanisms controlling animal locomotion, in this case, swimming. The tadpole spinal cord and hindbrain are simple and highly accessible, making it an ideal place to investigate rules that may be common to the movements of different animal species. I’m also interested in how these mechanisms mature during neural development. Research methods include electrophysiology, optogentics, pharmacology, anti-sense RNA, microinjection, anatomy and behavioural analyses. For example projects see

New: A three-year postdoctoral RA position funded by BBSRC is available:

This is a fixed term position for 3 years, available from 1st Feb, 2014.  It is widely known that both cellular properties and synaptic connections are important in determining neural network outputs. We have recently identified the most critical neurons in the swimming rhythmogenesis (Soffe et al., 2009 J Physiol; Li et al., 2010 J Neurosci; Moult et al., 2013 Neuron) and mapped out their synaptic connections. The work in this project will investigate the ionic channels that give these neurons some interesting properties at rest and during swimming, such as rebound firing and less negative resting membrane properties. The main techniques to be used are visually-guided current- and voltage-clamp whole-cell recordings similar to those used on brain slices, dynamic clamping and optogenetics. Previous training in electrophysiology is essential and experiences in microscopic dissections are desirable. This project will involve close collaboration with Dr Steve Soffe and Prof Alan Roberts in the School of Biological Sciences in the University of Bristol (, and Prof Roman Borisyuk in Plymouth University. The application deadline is the 7th, Jan 2014 (job ref: SB4900) . Please apply at:



Previous Lab members:

Nicola Porter: PhD student funded by BBSRC.

Peter Moult: Research fellow funded by Wellcome Trust. Now a lecturer at Abertay University.

Hong-Yan Zhang: Short-term research fellow funded by Wellcome Trust. Now she has started her own lab in the University of Edinburgh.




Moult, PR , Cottrell, GA & Li, W 2013, ' Fast silencing reveals a lost role for reciprocal inhibition in locomotion ' Neuron , vol 77, no. 1, pp. 129-140.
Li, W & Moult, PR 2012, ' The control of locomotor frequency by excitation and inhibition ' The Journal of Neuroscience , vol 32, no. 18, pp. 6220-6230.
Roberts, A , Li, W & Soffe, S 2012, ' A functional scaffold of CNS neurons for the vertebrates: The developing Xenopus laevis spinal cord (review) ' Developmental Neurobiology , vol 72, no. 4, pp. 575-584.
Li, W 2011, ' Generation of Locomotion Rhythms Without Inhibition in Vertebrates: The Search for Pacemaker Neurons (review) ' Integrative and Comparative Biology , vol 51, no. 6, pp. 879-889.
Li, W , Roberts, A & Soffe, S 2010, ' Specific Brainstem Neurons Switch Each Other into Pacemaker Mode to Drive Movement by Activating NMDA Receptors ' The Journal of Neuroscience , vol 30, no. 49, pp. 16609-16620.
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