About Associate Professor William (Bill) Phillips

Synapses are what allow us to see, think and move, but a synapse is a relationship among cells. My passion is to better understand the synaptic relationship: how it begins and what keeps it going. The combination of scientific challenge, discovery and teaching people about our broader progress in neuroscience is enormously satisfying

Dr Bill Phillips is a world expert on the development of the neuromuscular synapse: a paradigm for our emerging understanding of how synapses are formed throughout the nervous system

Bill Phillips graduated, BSc with honours in microbiology, in 1981 before pursuing a PhD in developmental neurobiology at the University of Sydney. In 1989 he moved to the USA to a postdoctoral research position at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Bill returned to Australia in 1993 to take up a lectureship in the Department of Physiology, University of Sydney, where he established his own research laboratory His research program has long focused on the postsynaptic side of synapse formation. He was the first to show that a receptor-associated protein, rapsyn, could organize neurotransmitter receptors into large (postsynaptic-like) receptor clusters. His group later described developmental changes in the amount of rapsyn at the synapse, showed that these changes were regulated by the nerve and mapped out their importance for postsynaptic differentiation. The nerve terminal secretes a proteoglycan called agrin. Agrin acts via muscle specific kinase (MuSK) in the postsynaptic membrane to regulate rapsyn. Recently it has become clear that the same signaling proteins are important for maintaining the whole synapse, even in adult life. For instance, some myasthenia gravis patients have autoimmune antibodies against MuSK but it was uncertain whether these antibodies caused the disease. The group recently showed that immunoglobulin G from these patients blocks agrin/MuSK signaling and that this causes both the pre- and post-synaptic parts of the synapse to fall apart. These ongoing studies are helping to explain the physiological mechanisms that keep synapses healthy, and how these processes are affected by disease Dr Phillips has served on the grant review panels for molecular neuroscience for the National Health and Medical Research Council, Chairs the School of Medical Sciences Teaching Committee, and coordinates the longstanding Anderson Stuart Series of Friday Research Seminars. PhD students from the lab regularly present their work at a variety of local, national and international scientific meetings and his PhD graduates have moved on to pursue postdoctoral research in Sydney, at Boston University, Tufts and Stanford University

Selected publications

For a comprehensive list of Associate Professor Phillips's publicatons, please visit his Sydney Medical School profile page.