Denis Burdakov group

Neural circuits, instincts, sleep, appetite

Powerful instinctive drives such as appetite and alertness are vital for functional and competitive adaptive behaviour. Their malfunction also causes some of the most frequent diseases, such as obesity and sleep disorders, affecting around 1:4 people worldwide. We study function and malfunction of instincts at many levels of analysis, from cells to behavior.

A particular focus is on hypothalamic neurons which send axons throughout the brain, and on global control implied by these projections. By viewing instincts as control loops automated through learning or inheritance, we explore the logic and neural implementation of instinctive action. Since control systems compute predictive and corrective actions based on changes in environment, we are also interested in neurophysiology of computation.


Burdakov lab is equipped for carrying out optogenetics, pharmacogenetics, behavioural assays, 2-photon and confocal imaging, electrophysiology, immunocytochemistry, and computational modelling. We combine classic neurophysiological strategies with direct measurements of neural computations by optical replay of circuit inputs while measuring outputs.

Team members:

Dr Antonio Gonzalez, Dr Cornelia Schöne, Dr Craig Blomeley, Dr Sarah Cains, Ms Christin Kosse, Ms Panagiota Iordanidou.

Recent work in Burdakov lab has been funded by:

MRC, ERC, HFSP, BBSRC, Diabetes UK, The Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society, HHMI

Figure 1:

Figure 1:

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TOP: immunolabelling showing orexin/hypocretin (green) and MCH (red) neurons in the lateral hypothalamus (from Burdakov & Alexopoulos, J Cell Moll Med 2005, 9(4):795). MIDDLE: schematic of the widespread projections of orexin/hypocretin (green) and MCH (red) neurons in the rodent brain. BOTTOM: model of direct regulation by glucose (from Burdakov et al, Philos Trans R Soc B 2005, 360(1464): 2227).

Figure 2:

Figure 2:

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TOP: viral insertion of cre-dependent ChR2 constructs (top left) into specific neurons allows the excitatory ion channel ChR2 to drive spikes and currents in response to blue light (top left traces). Cell images: genetic targeting of ChR2 can be confirmed by immunofluorescence combined with confocal microscopy: orexin neurons (red), ChR2-YFP (green), co-localization (yellow). BOTTOM: signal probing in native brain circuits by analyzing postsynaptic electrical responses of defined neurons to presynaptic optogenetic stimulation of specific sets of ChR2-containing axons (pictures contributed by Cornelia Schöne).


  • Prof Antoine Adamantidis, Bern / McGill
  • Prof Lars Fugger, Oxford
  • Drs Tania Korotkova and Alexei Ponomarenko, FMP-Berlin
  • Prof Lora Heisler, Aberdeen
  • Dr John Apergis-Schoute, Cambridge

Selected publications

Our research themes

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