Sir Charles Sherrington Prize Lecture: Lighting Up the Brain

In light of the extension to the COVID-19 restrictions and in line with Government guidance, while this lecture will be joint in person and virtual, numbers will be restricted in the lecture theatre to invited guests. All are requested to view the lecture online, which can be accessed via the link below. The lecture will be followed by a Q&A, and any questions from online attendees will be delivered to the speaker by the host.

To access the lecture online via Teams:

In two decades, optogenetic control of neuronal activity has developed from a far-fetched idea to a widely used technique. My lecture will recount how this happened, drawing on the earliest and latest results from my lab. To illustrate what is now possible, I will present recent work on the regulation and function of sleep. Optogenetics has allowed us to pinpoint neurons whose sleep-inducing activity switches on as sleep deficits accrue, revealed how this activity switch works, and furnished a molecular interpretation of sleep pressure, its accumulation, and its discharge.


Gero Miesenböck is Waynflete Professor of Physiology and founding Director of the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford in 2007, he held faculty appointments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Yale University.

Miesenböck has received many awards for the invention of optogenetics, including the Brain Prize, the Massry Prize, and the Shaw Prize. He is a member of the Austrian and German Academies of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society.


In 1913, Sir Charles Sherrington came here to the Department in Oxford as the Waynflete Professor of Physiology; Charles was recommended for the chair unanimously without any other candidates being considered. He said of Oxford that its real function in the world “is to teach…what is not yet known”.

Sherrington received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 with Edgar Adrian for their work on the functions of neurons. Prior to the work of Sherrington and Adrian, it was widely accepted that reflexes occurred as isolated activity within a reflex arc; instead Sherrington and Adrian showed that reflexes require integrated activation and demonstrated reciprocal innervation of muscles, a principle now known as Sherrington’s Law.


Following the lecture, the new Sir Charles Sherrington plaque outside the entrance of the Sherrington Building will be unveiled. In line with Government restrictions, viewing numbers will be restricted to invited guests.