James Crane

UTAS Home Dr James Crane

James Crane

Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Histology

Sandy Bay Campus

Over 50 per cent of Australians will experience a serious mental health issue during their lifetime. But those who do often carry a burden of shame that adds to their suffering.

Herein lies the motivation behind Dr James Crane’s research. His investigations in the field of neuroscience focus on processes in the body and brain that are so microscopic one might be forgiven for wondering what this has to do with the bigger picture. But understanding the biology of mental functioning leads to better treatments for common disorders like anxiety, depression and stress-related illnesses. It also leads to better education among the population at large, which reduces stigma.

Take one common mental health condition: post-traumatic stress disorder. Up to two million people in Australia suffer PTSD. It affects a wide range of individuals in varied situations, including the military, refugees, nurses, paramedics and doctors.

Despite increasing recognition by government with interventions that make mental health care more accessible for such conditions, a stigma remains which means the afflicted often do not seek help when they need it.

Dr Crane is powerfully motivated to change the status quo. ‘I want to see improvements in the way we treat mental health, and in how we think about people with mental health disorders,’ he says. ‘We have a very complex body and brain – as far as we know, the human brain is the most complex thing in the universe. So it’s not surprising sometimes things go awry.’

Researching the most basic workings of the brain demonstrates the neurological foundations of mental disorders. ‘It’s all cells talking to cells,’ explains Dr Crane. ‘Neurons talking to neurons. When people understand it’s all biological, it reduces the stigma. Anything in the brain you don’t want can be chemically explained. I’d like to see the day when a mental health issue is talked about in the same way as the common cold or a knee injury.’

Dr Crane was drawn to neuroscience during an undergrad lecture. ‘I learned about a particular neuron repurposing ATP – the energy molecule that powers the cells – to act as a messenger. It struck me as very clever. It spoke to me strongly about the efficiency of the body and its ability to come up with solutions to problems.’

Dr Crane’s current focus is on how the hormone oxytocin influences the way the amygdala copes with complex sensory environments. ‘We’ve found a particular neuron that is involved, and want to find out exactly what it is and how it works.’ The amygdala is the part of the brain involved in the fear-response, which is overactive in conditions like PTSD and anxiety.

‘I’m also very interested in the neurobiology of Vitamin B6,’ says Dr Crane, ‘and the impact of a B6 deficiency on neural functioning and neurotransmitter production. A deficiency may contribute to anxiety conditions.’ Studies show that a high proportion of people are B6 deficient – up to 80 per cent of women on oral contraceptives, and a large number of the elderly in aged care. ‘I want to find solid evidence of these effects and how a deficiency may also affect conditions like ME/CFS, premenstrual syndrome, and foetal development.’ Epidemiological studies are being done on B6 levels in the Tasmanian population with the aim of developing public health initiatives concerning dietary intake.

Dr Crane says Tasmania is an excellent place for his research work. ‘UTAS has a growing reputation in the area of neuroscience, along with world-class facilities and an atmosphere of collegiality.’

When asked to describe the most exciting thing about his research, Dr Crane pondered: ‘I like discovering things that nobody else has seen before – even a small thing – I like being the first person to see it, or think of it. And then making a difference by contributing to society and a body of knowledge that can help us all.’

View more on Dr James Crane in WARP

Fields of Research

  • Central nervous system (320903)
  • Behavioural neuroscience (520202)
  • Medicine, nursing and health curriculum and pedagogy (390110)
  • Cognitive neuroscience (520203)
  • Architectural design (330102)
  • Neurology and neuromuscular diseases (320905)
  • Cellular nervous system (320902)

Research Objectives

  • Expanding knowledge in the health sciences (280112)
  • Expanding knowledge in psychology (280121)
  • Clinical health (200199)
  • Treatment of human diseases and conditions (200105)
  • Mental health (200409)
  • Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences (280102)


Total publications


Journal Article

(10 outputs)
2022Owen C, Crane J, 'Trauma-informed design of supported housing: a scoping review through the lens of neuroscience', International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19, (21) Article 14279. ISSN 1660-4601 (2022) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.3390/ijerph192114279 [eCite] [Details]

Co-authors: Owen C


2020Crane JW, Holmes NM, Fam J, Westbrook RF, Delaney AJ, 'Oxytocin increases inhibitory synaptic transmission and blocks development of long-term potentiation in the lateral amygdala', Journal of Neurophysiology, 123, (2) pp. 587-599. ISSN 0022-3077 (2020) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1152/jn.00571.2019 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 9Web of Science - 8


2018Delaney AJ, Crane JW, Holmes NM, Fam J, Westbrook RF, 'Baclofen acts in the central amygdala to reduce synaptic transmission and impair context fear conditioning', Scientific Reports, 8, (1) Article 9908. ISSN 2045-2322 (2018) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-28321-0 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 14Web of Science - 13


2018Fam J, Holmes N, Delaney A, Crane J, Westbrook RF, 'Oxytocin receptor activation in the basolateral complex of the amygdala enhances discrimination between discrete cues and promotes configural processing of cues', Psychoneuroendocrinology, 96 pp. 84-92. ISSN 0306-4530 (2018) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.06.006 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 7Web of Science - 7


2018Holmes NM, Crane JW, Tang M, Fam J, Westbrook RF, et al., 'α2-adrenoceptor-mediated inhibition in the central amygdala blocks fear-conditioning', Scientific reports, 7, (1) pp. 1-10. ISSN 2045-2322 (2018) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-12115-x [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 8Web of Science - 8


2016Caffey MR, Crane JW, Ireland MF, 'Paramedic student anxiety levels towards concepts in pharmacology at a regional university in Australia', Australasian Journal of Paramedicine, 13, (4) Article 4. ISSN 2202-7270 (2016) [Refereed Article]

[eCite] [Details]


2016Delaney AJ, Crane JW, 'Presynaptic GABAB receptors reduce transmission at parabrachial synapses in the lateral central amygdala by inhibiting N-type calcium channels', Scientific reports, 6 ISSN 2045-2322 (2016) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1038/srep19255 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Scopus - 7Web of Science - 5


2016Windels F, Yan S, Stratton PG, Sullivan R, Crane JW, et al., 'Auditory tones and foot-shock recapitulate spontaneous sub-threshold activity in basolateral amygdala principal neurons and interneurons', PLoS one, 11, (5) Article e0155192. ISSN 1932-6203 (2016) [Refereed Article]

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155192 [eCite] [Details]

Citations: Web of Science - 8


2014Cox JL, Crane JW, 'Shifting the Focus: Increasing Engagement and Improving Performance of Nursing Students in Bioscience Subjects Using Face-to-Face Workshops to Reduce Anxiety', International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 22, (7) pp. 11-22. ISSN 2200-4270 (2014) [Refereed Article]

[eCite] [Details]


2013Crane JW, Cox JL, 'More than Just a Lack of Knowledge: A Discussion of the Potential Hidden-Impact of Poor Pre-enrolment Science Background on Nursing Student Success in Bioscience Subjects', International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 21, (2) pp. 26-36. ISSN 2200-4270 (2013) [Refereed Article]

[eCite] [Details]


Conference Publication

(2 outputs)
2013Bossomaier T, Delaney A, Crane J, Gobet F, Harre M, 'The Neurological Scaling of Human Expertise', The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Cognitive Technologies and Applications, 27 May - 1 June, 2013, Valencia, Spain, pp. 53-58. ISBN 978-1-61208-273-8 (2013) [Refereed Conference Paper]

[eCite] [Details]

2013Thiruvarudchelvan V, Crane JW, Bossomaier T, 'Analysis of SpikeProp Convergence with Alternative Spike Response Functions', 2013 IEEE Symposium on Foundations of Computational Intelligence (FOCI), 16-19 April 2013, Singapore ISBN 978-1-4673-5900-9 (2013) [Refereed Conference Paper]

[eCite] [Details]


Grants & Funding

Funding Summary

Number of grants


Total funding



Uncovering oxytocin and vasopressin release and functions with novel optical tools (2021 - 2023)$631,634
The neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin influence brain function and they are both implicated in the aetiology of neurological disorders such as autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. Intriguingly, oxytocin and vasopressin often work in opposition to each other. For example, oxytocin reduces, while vasopressin increases, anxiety. This suggests that a fine balance exists between oxytocin and vasopressin signalling in the brain and that disturbing this balance can lead to some forms of neurological disorders. Previous studies have utilised nonoptogenetic and optogenetic approaches to investigate the effects of either oxytocin or vasopressin on the central nervous system, but up until now it has been impossible to directly examine the endogenous balance betweenthese neuropeptides and how shifting this balance influences behaviour. To do this we will use recently developed fluorescent and optogenetic tools to manipulate oxytocin and vasopressin release and signalling in the brain. Using these novel tools we will determine the triggers and investigate the time course of oxytocin and vasopressin release in the amygdala (a brain region critical for generating and regulating anxiety) and how altering the balance between oxytocin and vasopressin signalling in the brain influences behaviour (e.g. conditioned-fear and anxiety-like avoidance behaviours). To our knowledge, this project is the first attempt to unravel the complex interaction between oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain and, therefore, the first concerted attempt to directly test the hypothesis that alterations in the balance between oxytocin and vasopressin could underpin the development of neurological disorders such as post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Because of this, we anticipate that the findings of this project will open new pathways in the search for treatments for fear and anxiety, two disorders that exact a huge toll on the mental health of Australians.
National Health & Medical Research Council ($631,634)
Administered By
University of Tasmania
Research Team
Lin J; Crane JW
2021 - 2023
Grant Reference

Research Supervision




PhDUsing Novel Optical Tools to Determine the Influence of Oxytocin and Vasopressin on Fear Memory Formation and Expression2021
PhDUsing Novel Optical Tolls to Determine the Influence of Oxytocin and Vasopressin on Fear and Memory Formation2021
PhDDo Renshaw Cells Drive Disease in ALS?2022
PhDNovel Approaches to Measure Oxytocin and AVP Release in Freely Behaving Animals2022
PhDOligodendrocytes Support Learning2022