Michael O. Poulter, PhD

Michael O. Poulter, Professor

Why I Became a Scientist

I became a scientist because research offered me a way to be curious about the natural world and to be creative.

Research Summary

My research is focused on how the control of neural-behaviour is organized. I am particularly interested in how gene expression in neurons has an impact on the function of neural circuits. We use this line of questioning to explore how epilepsy and major depressive disorder may arise from the inappropriate control of genetic information.

Research Questions and Disease Implications

Do processes that modify the chemical structure of DNA alter brain activity?

Our environment, both the physical and social, have a profound effect on us throughout life.  The chemicals to which we are exposed and the stresses we encounter are known to provide signals to our DNA that may change how we behave. Our work has shown that chronic stress can lead to modification of the chemical structure of DNA (by methylation)  and this may, in part, cause depression and perhaps others neurological disorders. We are also very interested in the methylation patterns found in the epileptic brain.

How does inhibitory synaptic transmission change when gene networks are altered in neurological disorders such as epilepsy and depression?

The functional outcome of the changes in gene expression that we encounter usually changes the how neuronal circuitry behaves. In particular GABAA receptor function which controls the rhythmicity of neuron networks is often suspected has being disturbed in those with epilepsy, schizophrenia and depression as well other neurological disorder. We use state of the art electrophysiological and imaging techniques to follow how altered gene expression change inhibitory neuron activity.

Do inhibitory neural circuits re-wire due to seizure activity or does re-wiring cause seizures?

One of our main interests is understanding how the epileptic brain becomes re-wired after the induction of epilepsy in our animal models. We use advanced imaging techniques and immunohistochemistry to build circuit maps of the cortex to see how seizures may be supported by pathophysiological plasticity that occurs during epileptogenesis. These studies provide fundamental insight into the development of epilepsy.


B.Sc   Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British  Columbia
Ph.D  Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec


 Post Doctoral Fellow National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Instututes of Heath, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Post Doctoral Fellow, University Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg,  France


Fogarty International Fellow (USA)
International Research Fellow (France)
CFI New Investigator Award
National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Independent Investigator


Gavrilovici C., McLachlan R., Poulter M.O. Electrophysiological properties and cabamazepine sensitivity of epileptic human cortical neurons. In press Cellular and Molecular Epilepsy 2014.

Pollock E., Everest M., Brown A., Poulter M.O. Metalloproteinase inhibition prevents inhibitory synapse reorganization and seizure genesis. Neurobiol Dis 70:21-31, 2014.

Du L., Merali Z., Poulter M.O., Palkovits M., Faludi G., Anisman H. Catechol-O-methyltransferase Val158Met polymorphism and altered COMT gene expression in the prefrontal cortex of suicide brains. Prog Neuropsycholpharmacol Biol Psychiatry 50:178-183, 2014.

Birjandian Z., Narla C., and Poulter M.O. Gain control of γ frequency activation by a novel feed forward disinhibitory loop: implcations for normal and epileptic neural activity. Front Neural Circuits 7:183, 2013.

Poulter M.O. Life expereince and DNA polymorphisms influence the brain epigenome. Can J Neurol Sci 40(5):726-727, 2013.

Ashraf M.A., Gavrilovici C., Ali Shah S.U., Shaheen F., Choudhary M.I., Rahman A., Fahnestock M., Simjee S.U. and Poulter M.O. A novel anticonvulsant modulates voltage-gated sodium channel inactivation and prevents kindling induced seizures. J Neurochem 126(5):651-661, 2013.

Zhurov V., Stead J.D., Merali Z., Palkovits M., Faludi G., Schild-Poulter C., Anisman H. and Poulter M.O. Molecular pathway reconstruction and analysis of disturbed gene expression in depressed individuals who died by suicide. PLoS ONE 7(10):e47581, 2012.

Poulter M.O. A new therapeutic target for the tratment of multiple sclerosis. Can J Neurol Sci 39(5):570, 2012.

Gavrilovici C., Pollock E., Everest M. and Poulter M.O. The loss of interneuron functional diversity in the piriform cortex after induction of experimental epilepsy. Neurobiol of Dis 48(3):317-328, 2012.

Poulter M.O., Young GB. Health research funding in crisis. Can J Neurol Sci 38(5):783-784, 2011.(Invited commentary)

• Kia A., Ribeiro F., Nelson R., Gavrilovici C., Ferguson S.S.G. and Poulter M.O. Kindling alters neurosteroid induced modulation of phasic and tonic GABAA receptor mediated currents: Role of phosphorylation. J Neurochem 116(6):1043-1056, 2011.

Gibb J., Hayley S., Poulter M.O. and Anisman H. Effects of stressors and immune activating agents on peripheral and central cytokines in mouse strains that differ in stressor responsivity. Brain Behav Immun 25(3):468-482, 2011.

**Azizian M., Patel R.V., Gavrilovici C. and Poulter M.O. Image-Guided Robot-Assisted Microscope Objective Lens Positioning: Application in Patch Clamping Proc IEEE/RSJ IROS, 2010.

** Azizian M., Patel R.V., Gavrilovici C. and Poulter M.O. Computer Assisted Patch Clamping Proc IEEE, ICRA, 2010.

• ** Azizian M., Patel R.V., Gavrilovici C. and Poulter M.O. Image Processing Techniques in Computer-Assisted Patch Clamping Imaging, Manipulation, and Analysis of Biomolecules, Cells, and Tissues SPIE, 7568, 1-12, 2010.

• Magalhaes A.C., Holmes K.D., Dale L.B., Comps-Agrar L., Lee D., Yadav P.N., Drysdale L., Poulter M.O., Roth B.L., Pin J.-P., Anisman H. and Ferguson S.S.G. CRF receptor 1 regulates anxiety behavior via sensitization of 5-HT2 receptor signalling. Nat Neurosci 13(5):622-629, 2010.

Poulter M.O., Du L., Zhurov V., Palkovits., Faludi G., Merali Z. and Anisman H. Altered organization of GABAA receptor mRNA expression in the depressed suicide brain. Front Mol Neurosci 3:3, 2010.

 Steiner J.P., Payne K.B., Main C.D., D’Alfonso S., Jacobsen K.X., Hicks T.P., Staines W.A. and Poulter M.O. GPI-1046 increases presenilin-1 expression and restores NMDA channel activity. Can J Neurol Sci 37(4):457-467, 2010.

**Azizian M., Gavrilovici C., Patel R. and Poulter M.O. Image-Guided Robot-Assisted Patch Clamping, SPIE Digital Library. 2010

Poulter M.O., Du L., Zhurov V., Merali Z. and Anisman H. Plasticity of the GABAA receptor subunit cassette in response to stressors in reactive versus resilient mice. Neuroscience 165(4):1039-1051, 2010.

• Gavrilovici C., D’Alfonso S. and Poulter M.O. Diverse interneuron populations have highly specific interconnectivity in the rat piriform cortex. J Comp Neurol 518(9):1570-1588, 2010.

• Mylvaganam S., Zhang L., Wu C., Zhang Z.J., Samoilova M., Eubanks J., Carlen P.L. and Poulter M.O. Hippocampal seizures alter the expression of the pannexin and connexin transciptome. J Neurochem 112(1):92-102, 2010.

• Poulter M.O., Du L., Palkovits M., Faludi G., Merali Z., Szyf M. and Anisman H. GABAA receptor promoter hypermethylation in suicide brain: implications for the involvement of epigenetic processes. Biol Psychiatry 64(8):645-652, 2008.

• Anisman H., Du L., Palkovits M., Faludi G., Kovacs G.G., Szontagh-Kishazi P., Merali Z. and Poulter M.O. Serotonin receptor subtype and p11 mRNA expression in stress-relevant brain regions of suicide and control subjects. J Psychiatry Neurosci 33(2):131-141, 2008.

Gibb J., Hayley S., Gandhi R., Poulter M.O. and Anisman H. Synergistic and additive actions of a psychosocial stressor and endotoxin challenge: Circulating and brain cytokines, plasma corticosterone and behavioral changes in mice. Brain Behav Immun 22(4):573-589, 2008.

Steckley D., Karajgikar M., Dale L., Fuerth B., Swan P., Drummond-Main C., Poulter M.O., Ferguson S.G., Strasser A. and Cregan S.P. Puma is a dominant regulator of oxidative stress induced Bax activation and neuronal apoptosis. J Neurosci 27(47):12989-12999, 2007.

• Roy V., Merali Z., Poulter M.O. and Anisman H. Anxiety responses, plasma corticosterone and central monoamine variations elicited by stressors in reactive and non-reactive mice and their reciprocal F(1) hybrids. Behav Brain Res 185(1):49-58. 2007.

Anisman H., Prakash P., Merali Z., Poulter M.O. Corticotropin releasing hormone receptor alterations elicited by acute and chronic unpredictable stressor challenges in stressor-susceptible and resilient strains of mice. Behav Brain Res 181(2):180-190, 2007.

• Anisman H., Poulter M.O., Ghandi R., Merali Z., Hayley S. Interferon-alpha effects are exaggerated when administered on a psychosocial stressor backdrop: Cytokine, corticosterone and brain monoamine variations. J Neuroimmunol 186(1-2):45-53, 2007.

• Ing T., and Poulter M.O. Diversity of GABAA receptor synaptic currents on individual pyramidalcortical neurons. Eur J Neurosci 25(3):723-734, 2007.

Schwabe K., McIntyre D.C., and Poulter M.O. The neurosteroid THDOC differentially affect spatial behavior and anesthesia in seizure-resistant and seizure-prone rats. Behav Brain Res 178(2):283- 292, 2007.

** These publications are full length articles that were submitted and refereed for presentation and publication at electrical engineering journals/conferences. They are not indexed by PubMed. This research has led to the development of software that automates patch clamp recording in brain slices. It was demonstrated by Sutter Instruments at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington D.C., November 2011. We now have a tentative agreement to commercialize.


Contact Information

Michael O. Poulter Ph.D
Director Graduate Program in Neuroscience
Molecular Medicine: Vascular and Brain Health Group, Robarts Research Institute
Dept of Physiology & Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine
University of Western Ontario
1151 Richmond St. N.
London Ontario
Canada N6A 5B7
Phone: 1- 519-931-5270 Email mpoulter@robarts.ca
Fax: 1- 519-931-5222