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Department of Genetics



I grew up in rural Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and studied Genetics as an undergraduate in Cambridge - a big culture shock at the time. I did my PhD in bacterial genetics in Trinity College Dublin, and as a postdoc in the University of Basel I developed the widely used tool of enhancer trapping in Drosophila. My current research interests are in using Drosophila to understand how neurons function at subcellular level, and how they can go wrong, in ways that are also informative about human neurodegenerative diseases. I enjoy teaching and mentoring, contributing to undergraduate teaching in cell biology and genetics, and acting as a Director of Studies in Churchill College.

Research Interests

We are interested in the basic biology of axonal ER, and its relevance to neurodegenerative disease, using Drosophila as a model. Axonal ER forms a continuous tubular network throughout the neuron, comparable to a “neuron within a neuron”, potentially able to integrate physiological responses throughout the neuron. Is it important? Almost certainly - the motor axon degeneration disease, hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) results from mutations affecting several ER-shaping proteins.

Using Drosophila, we have established roles for some HSP proteins in formation of axonal ER, by finding ER abnormalities in mutant axons, including occasional gaps in continuity. Current work includes development of screening tools to identify additional genes and mechanisms for formation of axonal ER, analyses of the ER network by light and EM, and the roles of ER in the physiology of axons and other organelles that contact ER.

Research Group Links

O'Kane Group | Department of Genetics (

Dr Cahir O'Kane :: Cambridge Neuroscience


Professor of Genetics
Deputy Head of Department (Research)
Dr Cahir  O'Kane
Areas of Interest: 
Drosophila neuronal cell biology and disease
Email address: 
Department of Genetics,
University of Cambridge,
Downing Street,
Cambridge CB2 3EH,
United Kingdom
Office phone: 
+44 (0)1223 333177
Takes PhD students