Over the last 22 years Dr Head’s research has been in the general area of skeletal muscle physiology. In particular his interest has been in the area of the muscular dystrophies and studying the role of [Ca2+]i in the physiology and pathophysiology of skeletal muscle. Dr Head’s laboratory has also performed substantial work on dystrophic mdx mouse cerebellum dysfunction. Dystrophin, the protein missing in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, is also normally expressed in the brain. His group demonstrated that dystrophin functions to cluster GABAA receptors at the post synaptic density of Purkinje neurons and in its absence that amplitude of inhibitory GABA currents is reduced by 50%, additionally; there is a 50% blunting of the Long Term Depression response at the parallel fibre/Purkinje synapse.
THE GENE FOR SPEED:- Dr Head has been involved in research into the role of skeletal muscle Z line cytoskeletal protein alpha-actinin-3 since. The gene encoding this protein is colloquially termed the “gene for speed”. The understanding of the consequences for skeletal muscle function of an absence of α-actinin-3, both in athletes and the general population, is of global importance given the mutation is present in more than 1 billion people worldwide. To date Dr Head has analysed the basic contractile properties of α-actinin-3 deficient muscle demonstrating that in some aspects the mutant fast-twitch muscle behaves like a slow-twitch muscle, relaxing and fatiguing more slowly than its wild-type counterpart and also that the mutation renders fast-twitch muscle fibres cold acclimatised and pre-endurances trained; which may explain the positive selection pressures on the mutation over the last 100,000 years of human evolution.
SUMMARY OF RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENTS:- Between 1990 and 1993 Dr Head was among the first researchers to investigate the [Ca2+ ]i handling and electrophysiological properties of two muscular dystrophies which lacked the cytoskeleton proteins laminin α-2 and dystrophin, respectively. These papers are still cited in current reviews on contractile properties and [Ca2+]i handling in muscular dystrophies. More recently Dr Heads has continued his research into contractile and calcium deficiencies which result when cytoskeletal proteins are absent from excitable cells Dr Head’s research group has been invited to talk and participate at international conferences in Paris (France) and Philadelphia (USA) to present on the role played by the cytoskeletal protein “dystrophin” in [Ca2+]i handling of neural tissues and contractile properties of skeletal muscle. As a further recognition of Dr Head’s international standing in this research area of cellular [Ca2+]i regulation and contractile properties of muscle cells, he was appointed to a Visiting Professorship at the University of Liverpool UK (During 2006) . Dr Head has supervised 8 PhD students.