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Dr Thomas Butts

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Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Deputy Phase 1 Lead

I am a developmental neurobiologist interested in how the brain develops and how this development has evolved over the last 500 or so million years. I teach embryology, neuroanatomy, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology across the medical curriculum.

After reading Cell Biology at Durham, my PhD explored the evolution of the homeobox genes in animals, which are crucial in building animal embryos, under the supervision of Dr David Ferrier (now in St Andrews) and Prof Peter Holland at Oxford, where I was also a college lecturer at St Catherine's College. From there, I moved to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof Richard Wingate, Prof Andrew Lumsden, and Prof Anthony Graham at King's College London on the development and evolution of the hindbrain. It was at KCL that I began using experimental chick embryology to address questions of brain development, something I have been engaged in ever since.

My first teaching post was as a lecturer in neurobiology on the Nanchang Joint Programme at QMUL, and before moving to Sunderland I was the programme director for the BSc Anatomy degree at the University of Liverpool.

Teaching and supervision

I am a Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience in the School of Medicine, deputy phase 1 lead, and the School's equality, diversity, and inclusion lead. I lead the second year Unit 14: Integrated Sensorimotor Systems, and I teach embryology, neuroanatomy, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology across the medical curriculum.

Research interests for potential research students

  • Molecular development of the cerebellum
  • Developmental evolution of the cerebellum
  • Medulloblastoma cancer biology


I am interested in the molecular control of neurogenesis and its evolution across the vertebrate phylogeny. In particular, I work on the cerebellum, which contains ~80% of the neurons in the brain, and exhibits a huge variety of morphological forms across vertebrates. As such, it's a great model system for asking how complex, foliated brains evolved. Unsurprisingly given the huge numbers of neurons produced during development, cerebellar progenitors also give rise to the most common paediatric brain tumour, medulloblastoma.

My research aims to understand the molecular control of progenitor biology in the cerebellum, and through this to illustrate both how cerebellar development has evolved, and also how it can go awry during tumourigenesis, principally using a combination of comparative genomics and genetic manipulations in the chick embryo.


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Number of items: 22.


Yañez-Guerra, Luis Alfonso, Zhong, Xingxing, Moghul, Ismail, Butts, Thomas, Zampronio, Cleidiane G, Jones, Alexandra M, Mirabeau, Olivier and Elphick, Maurice R (2020) Echinoderms provide missing link in the evolution of PrRP/sNPF-type neuropeptide signalling. eLife, 9. ISSN 2050-084X

Hu, Youli, Butts, Thomas, Poopalasundaram, Subathra, Graham, Anthony and Bouloux, Pierre‐Marc (2019) Extracellular matrix protein anosmin‐1 modulates olfactory ensheathing cell maturation in chick olfactory bulb development. European Journal of Neuroscience, 50 (9). pp. 3472-3486. ISSN 0953-816X

Lipovsek, Marcela, Ledderose, Julia, Butts, Thomas, Lafont, Tanguy, Kiecker, Clemens, Wizenmann, Andrea and Graham, Anthony (2017) The emergence of mesencephalic trigeminal neurons. Neural Development, 12 (1). ISSN 1749-8104

Hanzel, Michalina, Wingate, Richard J.T. and Butts, Thomas (2015) Ex Vivo Culture of Chick Cerebellar Slices and Spatially Targeted Electroporation of Granule Cell Precursors. Journal of Visualized Experiments (106). ISSN 1940-087X

Smith, Moya M., Johanson, Zerina, Butts, Thomas, Ericsson, Rolf, Modrell, Melinda, Tulenko, Frank J., Davis, Marcus C. and Fraser, Gareth J. (2015) Making teeth to order: conserved genes reveal an ancient molecular pattern in paddlefish (Actinopterygii). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282 (1805). p. 20142700. ISSN 0962-8452

Butts, Thomas, Green, Mary J. and Wingate, Richard J. T. (2014) Development of the cerebellum: simple steps to make a ‘little brain’. Development, 141 (21). pp. 4031-4041. ISSN 0950-1991

Butts, Thomas, Hanzel, Michalina and Wingate, Richard J. T. (2014) Transit amplification in the amniote cerebellum evolved via a heterochronic shift in NeuroD1 expression. Development, 141 (14). pp. 2791-2795. ISSN 0950-1991

Graham, Anthony, Butts, Thomas, Lumsden, Andrew and Kiecker, Clemens (2014) What can vertebrates tell us about segmentation? EvoDevo, 5 (1). p. 24. ISSN 2041-9139

Butts, Thomas, Modrell, Melinda S., Baker, Clare V.H. and Wingate, Richard J.T. (2014) The evolution of the vertebrate cerebellum: absence of a proliferative external granule layer in a non‐teleost ray‐finned fish. Evolution & Development, 16 (2). pp. 92-100. ISSN 1520-541X

Broom, Emma R., Gilthorpe, Jonathan D., Butts, Thomas, Campo-Paysaa, Florent and Wingate, Richard J. T. (2012) The roof plate boundary is a bi-directional organiser of dorsal neural tube and choroid plexus development. Development, 139 (22). pp. 4261-4270. ISSN 0950-1991

Butts, Thomas, Chaplin, Natalie and Wingate, Richard J. T. (2011) Can Clues from Evolution Unlock the Molecular Development of the Cerebellum? Molecular Neurobiology, 43 (1). pp. 67-76. ISSN 0893-7648

Butts, Thomas, Holland, Peter W. H. and Ferrier, David E. K. (2010) Ancient homeobox gene loss and the evolution of chordate brain and pharynx development: deductions from amphioxus gene expression. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277 (1699). pp. 3381-3389. ISSN 0962-8452

Shigenobu, S., Bickel, R. D., Brisson, J. A., Butts, Thomas, Chang, C-c., Christiaens, O., Davis, G. K., Duncan, E. J., Ferrier, D. E. K., Iga, M., Janssen, R., Lin, G.-W., Lu, H.-L., McGregor, A. P., Miura, T., Smagghe, G., Smith, J. M., Van Der Zee, M., Velarde, R. A., Wilson, M. J., Dearden, P. K. and Stern, D. L. (2010) Comprehensive survey of developmental genes in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum: frequent lineage-specific duplications and losses of developmental genes. Insect Molecular Biology, 19. pp. 47-62. ISSN 09621075

Eisen, Jonathan A., Butts, Thomas and The International Aphid Genomics Consortium, (2010) Genome Sequence of the Pea Aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. PLoS Biology, 8 (2). e1000313. ISSN 1545-7885

Takatori, Naohito, Butts, Thomas, Candiani, Simona, Pestarino, Mario, Ferrier, David E. K., Saiga, Hidetoshi and Holland, Peter W. H. (2008) Comprehensive survey and classification of homeobox genes in the genome of amphioxus, Branchiostoma floridae. Development Genes and Evolution, 218 (11-12). pp. 579-590. ISSN 0949-944X

Zhong, Ying-Fu, Butts, Thomas and Holland, Peter W. H. (2008) HomeoDB: a database of homeobox gene diversity. Evolution & Development, 10 (5). pp. 516-518. ISSN 1520-541X

Putnam, Nicholas H., Butts, Thomas, Ferrier, David E. K., Furlong, Rebecca F., Hellsten, Uffe, Kawashima, Takeshi, Robinson-Rechavi, Marc, Shoguchi, Eiichi, Terry, Astrid, Yu, Jr-Kai, Benito-Gutiérrez, E`lia, Dubchak, Inna, Garcia-Fernàndez, Jordi, Gibson-Brown, Jeremy J., Grigoriev, Igor V., Horton, Amy C., de Jong, Pieter J., Jurka, Jerzy, Kapitonov, Vladimir V., Kohara, Yuji, Kuroki, Yoko, Lindquist, Erika, Lucas, Susan, Osoegawa, Kazutoyo, Pennacchio, Len A., Salamov, Asaf A., Satou, Yutaka, Sauka-Spengler, Tatjana, Schmutz, Jeremy, Shin-I, Tadasu, Toyoda, Atsushi, Bronner-Fraser, Marianne, Fujiyama, Asao, Holland, Linda Z., Holland, Peter W. H., Satoh, Nori and Rokhsar, Daniel S. (2008) The amphioxus genome and the evolution of the chordate karyotype. Nature, 453 (7198). pp. 1064-1071. ISSN 0028-0836

Holland, Linda Z., Albalat, Ricard, Azumi, Kaoru, Benito-Gutiérrez, Èlia, Blow, Matthew J., Bronner-Fraser, Marianne, Brunet, Frederic, Butts, Thomas, Candiani, Simona, Dishaw, Larry J., Ferrier, David E.K., Garcia-Fernàndez, Jordi, Gibson-Brown, Jeremy J., Gissi, Carmela, Godzik, Adam, Hallböök, Finn, Hirose, Dan, Hosomichi, Kazuyoshi, Ikuta, Tetsuro, Inoko, Hidetoshi, Kasahara, Masanori, Kasamatsu, Jun, Kawashima, Takeshi, Kimura, Ayuko, Kobayashi, Masaaki, Kozmik, Zbynek, Kubokawa, Kaoru, Laudet, Vincent, Litman, Gary W., McHardy, Alice C., Meulemans, Daniel, Nonaka, Masaru, Olinski, Robert P., Pancer, Zeev, Pennacchio, Len A., Pestarino, Mario, Rast, Jonathan P., Rigoutsos, Isidore, Robinson-Rechavi, Marc, Roch, Graeme, Saiga, Hidetoshi, Sasakura, Yasunori, Satake, Masanobu, Satou, Yutaka, Schubert, Michael, Sherwood, Nancy, Shiina, Takashi, Takatori, Naohito, Tello, Javier, Vopalensky, Pavel, Wada, Shuichi, Xu, Anlong, Ye, Yuzhen, Yoshida, Keita, Yoshizaki, Fumiko, Yu, Jr-Kai, Zhang, Qing, Zmasek, Christian M., de Jong, Pieter J., Osoegawa, Kazutoyo, Putnam, Nicholas H., Rokhsar, Daniel S., Satoh, Noriyuki and Holland, Peter W.H. (2008) The amphioxus genome illuminates vertebrate origins and cephalochordate biology. Genome Research, 18 (7). pp. 1100-1111. ISSN 1088-9051

Butts, Thomas, Holland, Peter W.H. and Ferrier, David E.K. (2008) The Urbilaterian Super-Hox cluster. Trends in Genetics, 24 (6). pp. 259-262. ISSN 0168-9525

Butts, Thomas and Tribolium Genome Sequencing Consortium, (2008) The genome of the model beetle and pest Tribolium castaneum. Nature, 452 (7190). pp. 949-955. ISSN 0028-0836


Butts, Thomas (2014) University managers misled by metrics. Nature. 511, 534 (2014).

Butts, Thomas and Graham, Anthony (2013) Old before their time: the ancient origins of the neural crest [News]. Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research. 26 (3).

This list was generated on Fri Dec 8 09:01:45 2023 GMT.
  • Brain development
  • Brain evolution
  • Neuroscience
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Developmental biology

Last updated 13 September 2023