Howard Florey and neuroscience


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The Florey Institute has a long and proud history. In this volume some representative work from scientists at ‘the Florey’ are presented. In a way, they represent the evolution of the Florey over its history from its birth as the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine in the early 1960s, to its current form where it is focused primarily on brain research. A wonderful overview of the evolution of the Florey and its earlier activities has been given as a contribution in this volume by its first director, Derek Denton (Denton, 2013).

The original Howard Florey Institute has gradually evolved by a series of amalgamations with other neuroscience-based institutes. As well as the Howard Florey Institute, the amalgamations included the National Stroke Research Institute, the Brain Research Institute and, more recently, the Mental Health Research Institute. The drive to do this was to increase the critical mass of researchers and enable large science platforms to be purchased which could not have been done at the Institute's original size. The end result has been an outstanding success. The Florey now has over 550 staff located on two main campuses. The first of these is near the original building on the Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne, and the other on the campus of the Austin Hospital, one of the major University of Melbourne teaching hospitals. On the Parkville campus, the majority of research is discovery science, whereas on the Austin campus a stronger translational element is present.

A further indication of the success of the formation of The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health was the level of funding it was able to attract from both state and federal governments as well as a significant philanthropic contribution. This has allowed a new 20,000 m2 facility to be built close to the original Howard Florey Institute building on the Parkville campus and a 5000 m2 facility on the Austin Hospital campus. A collaborative translational research facility is also embedded within the Royal Melbourne Hospital, only 100 m from our new laboratories in Parkville. Platforms such as clinical imaging, animal behaviour and microscopy have therefore been able to be adequately funded.

The science within the Florey is organised across campuses in 10 divisions consisting of Brain Development and Regeneration, Cognitive Neuroscience, Epilepsy, Imaging, Mental Health, Multiple Sclerosis, Neurodegeneration, Neuropeptides, Stroke, and Systems Neurophysiology. The papers in this issue of The Journal of Physiology come from the divisions of Cognitive Neuroscience, Epilepsy, Neurodegeneration and Systems Neurophysiology. The first paper was published in an earlier issue. Here Madsen et al. (2012) relate structure to function and address the neuroanatomical substrates underpinning reward seeking in mice that have had protracted abstinence. A second paper from the Cognitive Neuroscience group elegantly shows the differential effects of early environmental enrichment on emotionally driven behaviour in mice with a Huntington's phenotype (Renoir et al. 2013). The cellular and molecular basis for epilepsy is still poorly understood, but Vargus et al. (2013) have provided insight into this area using genetic and pharmacological approaches to modulate giant depolarizing potentials in the neonatal hippocampus, and shown that this is directly related to increased susceptibility to seizures.

Two papers from the Neurogeneration group have investigated the development of neural circuits, and then the role that cell transplantation plays in circuit reconstruction. Wright et al. (2013) report that generation of striatal projection neurons now extends into the early developmental period in the rat brain. In a mouse model of Parkinson's disease, Kauhausen et al. (2013) were able to demonstrate how cell intrinsic and extrinsic factors facilitate an enhancement of neural circuits following cell transplantation. Systems Neurophysiology has been one of the foundation areas of the Florey. Ramchandra et al. (2013) have continued with this tradition in their sheep model of heart failure, where they have established direct neurophysiological evidence linking abnormal excitation from the paraventricular nucleus to both renal and cardiac sympathetic hyperactivity that is a hallmark of heart failure. Finally, Subramanian & Dutschmann (2013) from the same division are building on our understanding of the neural networks controlling breathing, where they have identified an important role for mid brain neurons in regulating the respiratory brainstem network.

It is wonderful to see there is still a strong physiological element to these studies, which makes them suitable for publication in The Journal of Physiology. The very roots of The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health lie in physiology, and as outlined by Derek Denton, significant discoveries were made in sheep models that still are used at the Institute today. We look forward to even greater contributions from the Florey to The Journal in future years.