Dr Jesse Louis Ashton

BE (Hons) ME (Hons) PhD (Bioengineering)


Jesse Ashton is a Research Fellow with the Synaptic Function and Cardiac Electrophysiology Research Groups in the Department of Physiology and Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI). His research focuses on how the heart’s nervous system controls heart rhythm, with a particular interest in developing methods to modulate nervous system activity in order to treat cardiac arrhythmias in humans. After graduating with a Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering degree in 2008, he stayed on for a Master of Engineering research project using computational modelling to investigate the role of cardiac tissue microstructure in mediating defibrillation by cardioversion. Following a year as a software developer in industry, he returned to the ABI, obtaining a PhD in Bioengineering in 2017 focused on nervous system control of the heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node, supported by scholarships from the University of Auckland, Freemason’s Charity and Todd Foundation. His subsequent postdoctoral research has been supported most recently as an associate investigator on a project grant from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

Research | Current

Jesse's current postdoctoral research is focused on determining how changes in the communication within the network of neurons that innervate the heart can contribute to triggering episodes of atrial fibrillation in the context of hypertension and heart failure.  Mechanisms that alter neuronal function and neurotransmission in heart failure have been identified but little is known about the properties of the connections – termed ‘synapses’ – formed by intrinsic cardiac neurons.  Jesse has developed new techniques to measure and stimulate synaptic activity in the heart’s nervous system at single cell and whole-organ levels, and he combines this with novel extended volume imaging techniques to relate electrical function of nerves and muscle to underlying tissue microstructure. His work supports the new hypothesis that changes in the structure and function at intrinsic cardiac synapses alter autonomic tone to the heart and enhance the likelihood of atrial arrhythmia. 


Research group


Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD Students:

  • Joscelin Smith (Department of Physiology, co-supervisor with Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery)


2020, Cardiac Electrophysiology Society Young Investigator Award Finalist

2016, Doctoral Oral Presentation Award, HealtheX Conference

2015, Best Poster, Auckland Bioengineering Institute Research Forum

2012, Todd Foundation Awards for Excellence (Postgraduate)

2011, Freemasons Postgraduate Scholarship

2010-2013, University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship

2008, Auckland Bioengineering Master Scholarship


Research Fellow - Department of Physiology and Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Areas of expertise

  • Cardiac and neuronal electrophysiology
  • Patch clamp technique
  • Calcium imaging of neuronal activity
  • Optical and extracellular mapping of cardiac electrical activity
  • Immunolabelling
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Tissue clearing 

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Professional Societies

  • 2020-current, Heart Rhythm Society
  • 2018-current, Cardiac Electrophysiology Society
  • 2017-current, Physiological Society of New Zealand

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Sigalas, C., Cremer, M., Winbo, A., Bose, S. J., Ashton, J. L., Bub, G., ... Burton, R. A. B. (2020). Combining tissue engineering and optical imaging approaches to explore interactions along the neuro-cardiac axis. ROYAL SOCIETY OPEN SCIENCE, 7 (6)10.1098/rsos.200265
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Johanna Montgomery, Annika Winbo
  • Sigalas, C., Cremer, M., Winbo, A., Bose, S. J., Ashton, J. L., Bub, G., ... Burton, R. A. B. (2020). Combining tissue engineering and optical imaging approaches to explore interactions along the neuro-cardiac axis: Neuro-cardiac research. Royal Society Open Science, 7 (6).10.1098/rsos.200265rsos200265
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Annika Winbo, Johanna Montgomery
  • Ashton, J. L., Argent, L., Smith, J. E. G., Jin, S., Sands, G. B., Smaill, B. H., & Montgomery, J. M. (2020). Evidence of structural and functional plasticity occurring within the intracardiac nervous system of spontaneously hypertensive rats. American journal of physiology. Heart and circulatory physiology, 318 (6), H1387-H1400. 10.1152/ajpheart.00020.2020
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Liam Argent, Gregory Sands, Bruce Smaill, Johanna Montgomery
  • Winbo, A., Ashton, J. L., & Montgomery, J. M. (2020). Neuroscience in the heart: Recent advances in neurocardiac communication and its role in cardiac arrhythmias. The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology, 12210.1016/j.biocel.2020.105737
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Annika Winbo, Johanna Montgomery
  • Agrawal, S., Ramlugun, G., Jamart, K., Kennelly, J., Ashton, J., Sands, G., ... Zhao, J. (2019). Structural Basis of Atrial Arrhythmogenesis in Metabolic Syndrome. Computing in Cardiology. 10.23919/CinC49843.2019.9005899
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Gregory Sands
  • Ashton, J. L., Trew, M. L., LeGrice, I. J., Paterson, D. J., Paton, J. F., Gillis, A. M., & Smaill, B. H. (2019). Shift of leading pacemaker site during reflex vagal stimulation and altered electrical source-to-sink balance. The Journal of physiology, 597 (13), 3297-3313. 10.1113/jp276876
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Julian Paton, Mark Trew, Ian LeGrice, Bruce Smaill
  • Zhou, K. Q., Draghi, V., Lear, C. A., Dean, J. M., Ashton, J. L., Hou, Y., ... Davidson, J. O. (2019). Protection of axonal integrity with 48 or 72 h of cerebral hypothermia in near-term fetal sheep. Pediatric research, online first10.1038/s41390-019-0475-8
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alistair Gunn, Kelly Zhou, Christopher Lear, Justin Dean, Laura Bennet, Joanne Davidson
  • Ashton, J. L., Sands, G. B., Khwaounjoo, P., Ramlugun, G. S., Trew, M. L., Walton, R. D., ... Smaill, B. H. (2019). Cellular Electrical Coupling in the Human Heart: An Image-Based Analysis Pipeline. Paper presented at Heart Rhythm 40th Scientific Sessions, San Francisco, CA. 8 May - 11 May 2019. Heart Rhythm. 10.1016/j.hrthm.2019.04.020
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Gregory Sands, Mark Trew, David Baddeley, Bruce Smaill


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 503 - Bldg 503
Level 5, Room 501
New Zealand

Web links