School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Professor David Clayton


Professor of Neuroscience, Director of Graduate Studies

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 2001
Room Number: Room 2.05, Fogg Building

Undergraduate Teaching

  • Essential Skills for Psychologists (Tutorials) (PSY100)
  • Extended Essay in Psychology (PSY606)


Research Interests:

How does life experience shape the brain and behavior? Research in the Clayton lab addresses this through studies of the zebra finch and other songbirds. A major focus is on the role of the genome as an agent of integration in the nervous system.  More information on our current research including opportunities for students and postdocs can be found on Prof Clayton's website.

Current Projects

Social influences on brain epigenetic state: we have found that acute social isolation alters gene expression patterns throughout the zebra finch brain, including areas involved in higher auditory cognition. We are testing hypotheses that these changes involve epigenetic processes that underlie adaptive responses to experience.

Developmental reprogramming following prenatal acoustic signals: Prenatal conditions can have lasting consequences on an organism’s lifecourse – how do these effects persist? We are exploring the hypothesis that epigenetic changes in gene methylation underlie one striking example, where exposure of zebra finch embryos in the egg to parental “incubation calls” alters their subsequent development after hatching (collaboration with Kate Buchanan and Mylene Mariette, Deakin University, Australia).

Categorial perception in songbirds: songbirds learn to discriminate and produce complex vocal signals. In early work we showed that vocal signal recognition was associated with changes in gene expression in the auditory forebrain. Moreover, these gene responses can vary with the bird’s experience and acquired associations. We continue to explore the mechanisms and significance of these phenomena. In one direction, we are asking with the valence of a stimulus (acquired through operant conditioning) affects the pattern of gene expression – is there a “neurogenomic engram” involved in encoding of experience?  In another direction, working with Rob Lachlan and Dan Stowell, we are probing how birds perceive, discriminate and classify elements of vocal signals, using operant conditioning (to collect direct evidence of classification) followed by machine learning approaches to develop an algorithm to reproduce that classification.

Starlings as a model for a model for the genomics of behavioural adaptation: the common (European) starling is used as a model organism for fundamental questions in behavioural ecology, including migratory invasiveness and persistent effects of developmental stress. In collaboration with a number of investigators who study starlings, we are applying comparative genomics and epigenomic analysis methods to identify genomic loci involved in these behavioural adaptations.

Personal website:

Research department




Current PhD opportunities

PhD supervision

Research Fellow

  • Julia George