Twelvetrees Lab

About us

The lab's research area, why we do it and where our research happens.

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the lab


The Twelvetrees Lab was established in April 2017 at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield. We aim to understand the role of microtubules and their motor proteins in neuronal health and disease.

Neurons form complex extended cellular structures; for example motor neurons have cell bodies in the spinal cord whilst extending axons down to the muscles of the hands and feet. Dendritic trees are also highly branched and spatially specialised structures. These morphological specialisations of neurons are essential to their function, but also hugely challenging as the majority of newly synthesised protein is made in the cell body and then actively transported to its site of use, up to 1 meter away. In addition, retrograde transport back to the cell body is required to remove ageing proteins and organelles from the distal neurites for degradation, as well as to relay neurotrophic survival signals back to the cell body.

Almost all the long distance transport events in neurons fall under the label of ‘microtubule mediated transport’. This label masks a complex set of co-dependent intracellular trafficking events of a huge array of cargos critical for maintaining neuronal homeostasis. There is now a large body of evidence demonstrating deficits in transport in multiple unrelated adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, as well as motor neuron diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSPs). In addition, deficits are frequently found as an early event in disease models.

Despite the complexity of transport as a cellular process, almost all long distance neuronal transport events are carried out by the same set of machinery: microtubules and microtubule motor proteins (dynein and kinesins). This commonality means that therapeutic strategies aimed at this system could have broad applicability to many diseases. However, there are many fundamental unknowns in our understanding of how motor proteins function as part of regulated systems within neurons, and this is a roadblock in developing treatments.

The primary aim of our research is to define neuron-specific functions of microtubule motors, established through neuron specific protein subunits or cellular environments, and ask how these are altered in disease models. We do this by applying the tools of biochemistry and biophysics within neuronal cells. By conducting this research within SITraN we aim to maximise the translation of our work for drug discovery.


The University of Sheffield


SITraN is part of the University of Sheffield's Department of Neuroscience in the  Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health. Neuroscience is a key strength of the University which extends far beyond the department in a cross faculty Neuroscience network.

The University of Sheffield is a research intensive university: a member of the Russell group; ranked in the top 5 UK institutions for Biological Research (REF 2014)a world top 100 university.

Perhaps even more importantly, The University of Sheffield is a fantastic place to learn and work: voted #1 in the Russell Group for student experience (THE); ranked at number 25 in the Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 (the only university to be featured in this ranking of Britain's happiest and most motivated workforces); ranked in the Stonewall top 100 workplaces for LGBT equality for 4 years running; the Medical School currently holds a Silver Athena SWAN award.

In the lab we aim to model Sheffield's principles and provide a supportive, dynamic and exciting environment in which to work.


The City of Sheffield


Sheffield is home to half a million people. Once you arrive you'll have the chance to get to know what a brilliant, fun and quirky place to live and work it is, all on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park (as you can probably tell from the gallery, this is one of the things we love most about living here). Variously known as The Steel City, England's largest village, The Outdoor City, as well as beer-capital of the World, Sheffield is absolutely jam-packed with arts, culture, restaurants and bars. Here are some of our favourite city guides:

The University of Sheffield: Why Sheffield?

The Guardian: Alt City Guide

The Outdoor City

Our Favourite Places

The Peak District