Sue Wonnacott

Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society , Prof

Personal profile

Research interests

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are pentameric ligand-gated cation channels that as so-called because they are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and the tobacco alkaloid nicotine. A gene family generates 16 subunits in mammals that combine to form a diversity of subtypes of nAChR, finely tuned for different cellular and physiological functions. The distinct subtypes that are expressed in the brain have elicited interest in understanding their roles in normal brain function and their contributions to diseases, including addiction, Alzheimers’s and Parkinson’s diseases and schizophrenia, where they are potential therapeutic targets. Although much remains to be discovered nAChRs are important modulators of synaptic activity, through the presynaptic regulation of neurotransmitter release and postsynaptic modulation of local calcium concentrations, for example. Thus nAChRs, notably the alpha7 subtype, can impact on synaptic mechanisms of information processing and memory storage such as long term potentiation.

We study the molecular and cellular mechanisms governed by nAChRs in neuronal systems, often in the context of a behavioural paradigm (such as conditioned place preference as a model of drug-paired learning). This interdisciplinary research is highly collaborative, currently with Dr Chris Bailey (Dept of Pharmacy and Pharmacology) and Prof David Heal (RenaSci, Nottingham). We also have a long-standing interest in the discovery and characterisation of novel ligands for nAChRs, in collaboration with Prof Tim Gallagher (University of Bristol).

From 2010-2017 Prof Wonnacott was Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Science.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Biochemistry, Doctor of Philosophy, Studies on acetylcholine release from synaptosomes, King's College London


Award Date: 1 Nov 1975

Biochemistry, Bachelor of Science, University College London


Award Date: 1 Jul 1971

Neurochemistry, Master of Science, King's College London


External positions

Reviews Editor, British Journal of Pharmacology

2020 → …

Parkinson's UK College of Experts, Parkinson's Disease Society


Advanced Grant Panel, European Research Council


Studentship Panel, NC3Rs


Reader for L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Fellowships.


Senior Editor, British Journal of Pharmacology



  • neuroscience
  • nicotine
  • addiction
  • receptors
  • brain


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