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Prof. William T O'Connor

BSc, PhD


Professor William T. (Billy) O’Connor is Foundation Chair and Head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School, Ireland. Before joining Faculty in 2007 he was Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and Head of Neuroscience Research at University College Dublin where he established a brain research unit in 1995. His research focus includes an understanding of illness of mind and brain as a disorder of the nerve network, and in the emerging field of neuroeducation - the brain science of learning -, which arose from his long-standing interest in education, particularly those factors which allow the human brain to learn optimally. Professor O’Connor has published more than 450 research papers, review article, book chapters, editorials and one book, and has received numerous awards for his research. Professor O'Connor retains a strong commitment to scientific outreach and communication. This is best illustrated through his popular Inside-the-Brain website, Twitter and Facebook accounts which report on the latest findings from the world of brain research.

Research Interests

Multitudes of different neurotransmitters are used to relay messages between nerve cells in the brain. Using microdialysis (via a specially constructed and very small artificial blood vessel) I monitor the release of neurotransmitters from nerve cells in those nerve circuits mediating movement and emotion. The aim is to understand the role of neurotransmitter release in these nerve circuits thereby leading to new treatments for Parkinsons disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia and head trauma. All studies are performed in the intact brain of animals and man. During the past 15 years my research has focussed on the application of microdialysis to the study of neurotransmitter release in the intact conscious brain of animals and man although other topics, namely the neurpharmacology of neurological and psychiatric disorders, analytical chemistry, data management and neuroinformatics have attracted my attention and continue to do so. A more recent initiative is the development of a neurotrauma model in the rat, which mimics the brain damage associated with mild and severe head injuries in the human. A neuroinformatics workbench is also being developed whereby the findings from the microdialysis studies obtained from the rat is pooled into a biologically based, object driven computer model for probing limbic and motor nerve circuitry I believe that this approach will lead to the prediction of better and safer drugs for the treatment of brain damage and mental illnesses in the human.

Teaching Interests

Academic advisor System
Neurobiology of empathy
Introduction to human physiology (six-lecture series)
Physiology of ageing
Neuromuscular junctions
Biochemistry of oxygen
Visceral afferents & symptom generation
Overview of the liver
Body fluid homeostasis
Overview of hormones
Year 2
Step 1 USMLE: recruitment sessions
Pathophysiology of asthma
Physiology of vision
History & ethics of animalexperimentation
Literature review session
Empathy in clinical training & practice
Final year (Y4) research module (two sessions)