Brian D. Corneil

Brian D. Corneil, Robarts Scientist

Why I Became a Scientist

I got bit by the research bug in the summer between my 3rd and 4th year of undergrad. I was very lucky to join a neuroscience lab that was just ramping up, and between that and a 4th year “hands-on” course in neurophysiology (which included actually listening to neurons in action!), I was hooked for life. Although science can be a frustrating and difficult venture, being an independent researcher is an incredible privilege, and there is no substitute for investigating something completely novel. I just can’t imagine doing anything else.

Research Summary

The goal of my research is to understand how the brain controls movement. Accurate movements require complex sensori-motor transformations that integrate bottom-up signals such as current body configuration with high-level goal signals to produce the desired motor response.

To understand such transformations, we examine eye-head gaze shifts that rapidly change our line of sight. These coordinated movements are produced by the oculomotor system, which has traditionally served as an excellent window into brain function in both healthy and pathological states.
In our lab, we combine neurophysiological and behavioural techniques in both humans and animal models. These techniques include extracellular recordings of single neurons during behaviour, electrical or transcranial magnetic stimulation, various modes of neural inactivation, and recording of neck muscle activity.

Research Questions

Complex and accurate motion requires integration of bottom-up and top-down signals, and exquisite coordination of multiple body segments. One line of research in our lab addresses the neural mechanisms underlying how the brain generates or abruptly cancels movement.

Eye-head gaze shifts provide an optimal model for addressing this most basic question. The oculomotor system solves many of the same motor control problems as those faced by the limb, hence the solutions may generalize to other control systems. Identifying and understanding the solutions employed by the brain can only help in the design of brain-machine interfaces for patients suffering from devastating conditions such as locked-in paralysis and quadriplegia. A better understanding of movement inhibition also provides insights into the cognitive control of behaviour, which is commonly deficient in many neuropsychiatric conditions.

A second line of research in our lab utilizes precise recordings of neck muscle activity as an assay of preparatory activity within the oculomotor system.

A recurring theme in my research is that orienting head movements are not as tightly controlled as saccades. Because of this, recordings of neck muscle recruitment index oculomotor activity well before, and sometimes independent of, saccadic gaze shifts. We have begun exploiting this insight to both measure residual brain function in hemidecorticate patients exhibiting blindsight. A separate line of research is using neck muscle recordings to develop an animal model for transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which has shown some promise as a treatment mode for intractable depression.


PhD, Physiology, Queen’s University 2001
BScH, Life Sciences, Queen’s University 1994


Post-doctoral training, California Institute of Technology, 2001-2003


Society for Neuroscience Lindlsey Award (2002)
CIHR New Investigator (2005)
Ontario Early Researcher Award (2005)
Dean’s Team Award (2007)
Dean’s Junior Excellence Award (2008)



Chapman, B.B., and Corneil, B.D. (2011) Neuromuscular recruitment related to stimulus presentation and task instruction during an anti-saccade task. Eur. J. Neurosci. 33: 349-360.

Goonetilleke, S.C., Doherty, T.J., Corneil, B.D. (2010) A within trial measure of the stop signal reaction time in a head-unrestrained oculomotor countermanding task. J. Neurophysiol. 104: 3677-3690.

Corneil, B.D., Elsley, J.K., Nagy, B., Cushing, S.L. (2010) Motor output evoked by sub-saccadic stimuaton of primate frontal eye fields Proc Natl Acad Sci 107: 6070-6075.

Contact Info

Centre for the Brain and Mind
Robarts Research Institute
Western University
1151 Richmond Street North
London, ON, Canada, N6A 5B7
Tel: 519-663-5777, x24132
Fax: 519-931-5233