Luke Souter

Research interests

Perineuronal nets regulate synapse formation, allowing neurons to form new connections. Recovery from spinal cord injuries, as well as memory retention in mice with Alzheimer’s disease has been enhanced when perineuronal nets are removed. This suggests perineuronal nets block new connection from forming, therefore removing them may enhance the formation of new neuronal connections. 

If neuronal connections could be manipulated in the CNS by regulating perineuronal net formation, it could present a promising therapeutic target. The benefit will go beyond spinal cord injury and Alzheimer’s disease, as it may also provide potential therapies to overcome addiction.

Currently, studies have removed perineuronal nets by digesting chondroitin sulfate using an enzyme. This causes the breakdown of the perineuronal net structure.

How do perineuronal nets control synapse formation? Considering the CNS is one of the softest organs in the body, it is very sensitive to mechanical changes. The compact nature of perineuronal nets suggests that they may present an important difference in mechanical signal to incoming growth cones, and thus regulating the formation of connections between neurons.

My project will aim to characterise the biochemical and biophysical properties of perineuronal nets to understand how biochemistry affects biophysical properties. 

The information collected will allow the fabrication of an artificial biomimetic surface that simulates perineuronal nets. By changing the biophysical properties of the material, we can study the neuronal behaviour in relation to biophysical properties in a highly controlled environment. This would allow us to tease out the important components in controlling synapse formation. This objective will involve fabrication processes to produce the surface, neuronal culture and fluorescence imaging techniques.

Secondly, my project aims to design a probe that will allow for in vivo imaging of perineuronal nets.


  • BSc Biology, University of Bristol

Research groups and institutes

  • Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering