Dr Wenchang Li:
Royal Society University Research Fellow

Research Overview:
Dr Wenchang Li

Dr Wenchang Li
Bute Building
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9TS

tel: 01334 463579
fax: 01334 463600
room: B12

Related Content:

School of Psychology and Neuroscience
Institute of Behavioural and Neural Sciences
IBANS Animal Cognition

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My research uses young frog tadpoles as a simple model system to study the basic neuronal mechanisms underlying motor control. Apart from basic motor reflexes, tadpoles can swim forward when touched and struggle when held, with both behaviour powered by axial muscles. They also exhibit some acute, concussion-like response when swim into solid objects. The tadpole spinal cord and hindbrain are simple and highly accessible for recordings, making it an ideal place to investigate rules that may be common to the movements of different animal species. I’m also interested in how these mechanisms mature during neural development. Our research methods include electrophysiology, calcium imaging, optogenetics, mRNA microinjections, anatomy and computer modelling.

General information on tadpoles

Recent sample projects

Older projects


Lab members

Yi Lou  PhD student funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council and the University of St Andrews.

Giulia Messa   co-supervised PhD student from Dr Stella Koutsikou's lab in the University of Kent.

Valentina Saccromano   MSc student co-supervised with Prof Laura Ballerini from SISSA


Co-supervised students from Dr stefan Pulver's lab working on Drosophila maggot motor control:

James Macleod   PhD student

Troy Takemori   MRes student




PhD positions: I always welcome inquiries from students with genuine research interests on potential PhD projects, which can be on either locomotion or developmental plasticity. You should hold or expect to hold at least an upper second first degree in neuroscience or related subjects.

China Scholarship Council and University of St Andrews Scholarships This is suitable for students of Chinese nationality in the last year of your BSc or MSc study. The deadline of which is usually January every year. Therefore you need to contact me well in advance to discuss potential projects for your application.

Postdoctoral positions:

Start Date: 1 November 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter, Fixed Term: 3 years

This is a fixed term position for 3 years, available from 1 Nov, 2019.  It is widely known that the activity of a neural network is shaped by its connectome. However, this structure-function relationship is not fixed and may change dynamically. In frog tadpoles, motor circuits that generate forward swimming can produce backward-thrusting struggling if the tadpole is held. Whereas swimming involves a wave of muscle contractions propagating from head to tail, struggling is a slower but powerful rhythm that propagates from tail to head. Continuous sensory inputs trigger reconfiguration in tadpole motor circuit by recruiting additional groups of neurons while depressing the activity of other groups of neurons (Li et al., 2007; Li 2015, J Neurosci). Such recruitment/de-recruitment is achieved through changes in the biophysical properties of the neurons and their synapses. We will define these biophysical changes and determine how they reconfigure motor circuits. The main techniques to be used are visually-guided current- and voltage-clamp whole-cell recordings similar to those used on brain slices, calcium imaging, dynamic clamping and optogenetics. Previous training in electrophysiology is essential and experiences in microscopic dissections are desirable. This project will involve close collaboration with Dr Joel Tabak-Sznajder in the University of Exeter and Prof Roman Borisyuk in Plymouth University to help them build computational models of both swimming and struggling circuitry and analyze the dynamics of their transition. There is also opportunity to get some undergraduate teaching experience if desired. please contact me ( directly for more details.


Former lab members

Nicola Porter: PhD student funded by BBSRC, now a free lance science writer.

Dr Peter Moult: postdoctoral research fellow funded by Wellcome Trust, now a lecturer at Abertay University.

Dr Hong-Yan Zhang: short-term postdoctoral research fellow funded by Wellcome Trust, now has her own lab in the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Erik Svensson: postdoctoral research fellow funded by BBSRC, now a postdoctoral researcher in Uppsala Universitet in Sweden.

Monica Wagner:  research assistant funded by BBSRC, now being trained to become a vet.



Dr Steve Soffe and Prof Alan Roberts at the University of Bristol

Prof Roman Borisyuk at Plymouth University

Dr Joel Tabak-Sznajder in the University of Exeter

Prof Keith Sillar at the University of St Andrews

Dr Hong-Yan Zhang: at the University of Edinburgh

Dr Xinhua Shu: at Glasgow caledonian University


5 (of 45 /dk/atira/pure/researchoutput/status/published available) for wl21 (source: University of St Andrews PURE)
Please click title of any item for full details

Stimulation of single, possible CHX10 hindbrain neurons turns swimming on and off in young Xenopus tadpoles Wenchang Li, Stephen Soffe
Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience 2019 vol. 13
The decision to move Alan Roberts, Roman Borisyuk, Edgar Buhl, Andrea Ferrario, Stella Koutsikou, Wenchang Li, Stephen R. Soffe
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2019 vol. 286
The neuronal mechanisms underlying locomotion termination Wenchang Li
Current Opinion in Physiology 2019 vol. 8 pp. 109-115
Muscarinic modulation of the Xenopus laevis tadpole spinal mechanosensory pathway Wenchang Li
Brain Research Bulletin 2018 vol. 139 pp. 278-284