SSA:What is the relationship between apathy and disruptions in normal biological rhythms?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Physiology and Pharmacology


Apathy is defined as a lack of feeling and emotion with a loss of interest and concern for everyday
activities. Apathy is not a disease in itself but is often observed in patients with neurological,
neurodegenerative neuroendocrine and neuropsychiatric disorders. Despite the apparent prevalence
of apathy, few studies have been undertaken to try to understand the neurobiology of this
psychological state or how its symptoms could be treated. Apathy is commonly seen in the elderly
and is prevalent in patients with neurodegenerative disorders. It is anticipated that new treatments
to slow or halt the progression of neurodegenerative diseases will become available in the next 5-10
years. Whilst this has huge potential benefits, there is also the likelihood that patients will still retain
many of the early symptoms of the disease. Until a method to reverse the degenerative process is
found or better early detection, there is a need to provide appropriate treatment for these patients'
ongoing symptoms. As one of the prominent symptoms of early neurodegeneration, and with
prevalence rates estimated at ~70%, understanding the biology of apathy is important.
This project is an industrial collaboration between researchers at the University of Bristol and the
pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly. The proposed research will integrate behavioural measures of
apathy in rodents with studies quantifying the biological rhythms which underlie endocrine and sleep
patterns. The work will test the hypothesis that changes in these biological rhythms lead to the
development and perpetuation of the psychological presentation of apathy. The work will also test
whether remedying dysfunctional patterns in either corticosterone release or sleep cycles can impact
on the behavioural measures. The project will combine a range of in vivo techniques and will provide
the student with training in, automated blood sampling and the measurement of the ultradian and
circadian rhythms associated with circulating levels of glucocorticoids; electroencephalography (EEG)
recording of sleep-wake cycles in freely moving animals and behavioural analysis of animals' affective
and motivational states.
Whilst the focus of this project will be normal aging and how biological rhythms and behavioural
characteristics associated with apathy develop over the life course, this project will also have much
wider implications. Apathy is not just a disease of aging and degenerative disorders and is commonly
seen in other chronic illnesses. By understanding the relationships between normal biological rhythms
and how these may or may not contribute to the development of neuropsychological symptoms, novel
hypotheses in these other conditions can be developed and tested.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M009122/1 30/09/2015 31/03/2024
1948176 Studentship BB/M009122/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2021 Megan Jackson
Description Bristol neuroscience festival 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Volunteered for Bristol neuroscience festival, which involved research groups running stands to engage school children (reception, primary and secondary) and the general public with their research through fun activities. I helped to run a stand organised by a member of the research group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Cheltenham science festival 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Volunteered on a stand at the Maker Shack, as part of the Cheltenham science festival. The Maker Shack included lots of stands relating to different aspects of science, with fun activities for young children. The audience mainly consisted of school children of different ages and their parents, as well as the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description School visit (Bristol) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Was part of a team that ran neuroscience-related activities for school children (approx 50 spread over 3 classes) including knitting a neuron, stimulating muscles with electricity and looking at the brains of different species. Promoted discussion and questions about neuroscience. School reported that children really engaged with it and enjoyed it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019