Front Quad of Lincoln College, the walls covered in bright green ivy

Professor Nigel Emptage

Professor Nigel Emptage

  • Nuffield Research Fellow
  • Tutor in Physiology and Pharmacology
  • Professor of Neuropharmacology
  • Head of the Department of Pharmacology
  • Sub-Rector


I joined Lincoln College in 2000 as the Tutor in Physiology and Pharmacology. I am also Professor of Neuropharmacology and Head of the Department of Pharmacology, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that I delight in teaching neuroscience.

On my journey to Lincoln I have had the great privilege to study and work in some exceptional laboratories: Professor Malcolm Burrows, Cambridge, where I received my PhD, Professor Tom Carew, Yale, where I held a SERC-NATO Fellowship, and Professor Tim Bliss, NIMR, a founding father of the synaptic plasticity field.

College teaching

I teach both preclinical medical students and biomedical scientists at Lincoln.


I head research team that is interested in synaptic transmission within the central nervous system. We wish to understand the way in which synapses behave when functioning normally but also how they change during memory formation or when struck by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The questions we ask are made possible by our experimental approach the central tenet of which is that we visualise functioning synapses in living tissue both in vitro and in vivo. In some instances we structurally monitor the synapse and in others we use optical reporters to reveal activity, such as the release or consequence of neurotransmitter release. This approach has proven to be a powerful one and has generated publications that include characterization of intracellular Ca2+ stores in pre- (Emptage et al. 2001 Neuron) and post- synaptic compartments (Emptage 1999 Neuron), the first demonstration of optical quantal analysis following LTP (Emptage 2003 Neuron), visualization of silent synapse unmasking (Emptage et al. 2006 Neuron), and a description of presynaptic NMDA receptors in the hippocampus (McGuinness et al. 2010 Neuron). Most recently we have reported how activity-dependent fusion of lysosomes with the neuronal membrane is critical for maintaining synaptic structure, a result with far reaching ramifications (Padamsey et al. Neuron 2017)

The execution of imaging able to achieve single-synapse resolution requires specialist instrumentation, some of which we develop ‘in house’. The group’s imaging facilities include confocal and two-photon microscopes, multimode fibre deep-brain imaging technology, total internal reflection microscopy and light-sheet microscopy (in collaboration with the M-Squared Lasers Biophotonics group).

Select publications

Activity-Dependent Exocytosis of Lysosomes Regulates the Structural Plasticity of Dendritic Spines. Padamsey Z. et al, (2017), Neuron, 93, 132 - 146

Presynaptic NMDARs in the hippocampus facilitate transmitter release at theta frequency. McGuinness L. et al, (2010), Neuron, 68, 1109 - 1127

State-dependent mechanisms of LTP expression revealed by optical quantal analysis. Ward B. et al, (2006), Neuron, 52, 649 - 661

Optical quantal analysis reveals a presynaptic component of LTP at hippocampal Schaffer-associational synapses. Emptage NJ. et al, (2003), Neuron, 38, 797 - 804

Calcium stores in hippocampal synaptic boutons mediate short-term plasticity, store-operated Ca2+ entry, and spontaneous transmitter release. Emptage NJ. et al, (2001), Neuron, 29, 197 - 208