Imperial College London

Prof. William Wisden F. Med. Sci.

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Chair in Molecular Neuroscience



+44 (0)20 7594 9744w.wisden Website CV




401BSir Ernst Chain BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Neuronal Circuitry of Sleep

Why we spend one third of our lives in a state of vulnerable inactivity – sleep – is an enduring mystery. Like hunger and thirst, the urge to sleep is a primal biological drive. It builds during waking and then dissipates during sleep. But the question of what exactly the drive to sleep is remains unsolved. In fact the drive to sleep after prolonged sleep deprivation seems so strong that it is similar to taking a sedative drug. We are investigating the mechanisms underlying the sleep drive and asking whether certain sedatives produce unconsciousness by activating the same neuronal pathways. Using a genetic approach that 'tags' the neurons involved, we  aim to find out how these circuits function. A deeper knowledge of how sedatives work could lead to drugs that have fewer side effects and might even give the restorative benefits of natural sleep. Specifically, the Franks-Wisden lab aims to understand:

1) What circuitries sense the inexorable drive to sleep when we are sleep-deprived (sleep homeostasis), and once initiated, how is sleep maintained? (Wellcome Trust Investigator Award).

2) Do sedative drugs promote these restorative sleep pathways? (Wellcome Trust Investigator Award).

3) Does sleep promote the clearance of waste metabolites? (UK DRI funded)

Publications and ORCID PROFILE:

  • See William Wisden's publications on PubMed
  • See William Wisden's publications on Google Scholar
  • See William Wisden's profile on ORCID

I share my lab and research programme with Prof. Nick Franks 



1986 BA,  Zoology - Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge
1989 PhD Molecular Neuroscience, University of Cambridge (with Stephen P. Hunt).

Posts held:

1990-1992 EMBO Long-term Fellowship, ZMBH, University of Heidelberg (with Peter H. Seeburg)
1993-2001 Group Leader, MRC LMB, Cambridge
2001-2005 Group Leader, IZN, University of Heidelberg
2005-2009 Professor & Chair of NeuroscienceInstitute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen

2009- Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at Imperial College

Member of UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial College

Co-Director, Centre for Neurotechnology


How to find us: click here for a map  - we are in the Sir Ernst Chain Building.



Yu X, Zhao G, Wang D, et al., 2022, A specific circuit in the midbrain detects stress and induces restorative sleep, Science, Vol:377, ISSN:1095-9203, Pages:1-10

Miracca G, Anuncibay Soto B, Tossell K, et al., 2022, NMDA receptors in the lateral preoptic hypothalamus are essential for sustaining NREM and REM sleep, The Journal of Neuroscience, Vol:42, ISSN:0270-6474, Pages:5389-5409

Souter EA, Chen Y-C, Zell V, et al., 2022, Disruption of VGLUT1 in Cholinergic Medial Habenula Projections Increases Nicotine Self-Administration, Eneuro, Vol:9

Franks NP, Wisden W, 2021, The inescapable drive to sleep: Overlapping mechanisms of sleep and sedation, Science, Vol:374, ISSN:0036-8075, Pages:556-559

Harding EC, Ba W, Zahir R, et al., 2021, Nitric oxide synthase neurons in the preoptic hypothalamus are NREM and REM sleep-active and lower body temperature, Frontiers in Neuroscience, Vol:15, ISSN:1662-453X

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