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Associative memory: the role of alpha7 nicotinic receptors in the ventral hippocampus

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project in collaboration with RenaSci Limited:

Supervisory Team:
Academic lead supervisor: Dr Chris Bailey, Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/chris-bailey
Academic co-supervisor: Prof Sue Wonnacott, Department of Biology & Biochemistry https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/sue-wonnacott
Industrial supervisor: Prof David Heal, RenaSci Limited

RenaSci Limited is a research company actively involved in cutting-edge neuropharmacological research including models of associative learning, motivation and addiction.

Overview of the research project:

Associative memories are critical for survival but ‘pathological’ memories contribute to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction [1]. The ventral hippocampus is a key brain region involved in the learning, storage and retrieval of associative memories, and is one of the first brain regions to be affected during Alzheimer’s disease [2].

Learning and memory is induced by synaptic plasticity, and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) can play modulatory roles in synaptic plasticity induction. We, and others, have shown that the alpha7 subtype of nAChR can modulate the crosstalk between glutamate and dopamine pathways, and the development and expression of synaptic plasticity [3-5]. Furthermore, we have shown that inhibiting alpha7 nAChRs in the ventral hippocampus can inhibit reinstatement of conditioned place preference to opioid drugs; a model of addiction-related associative behaviour [6].

In this project, the student will build on these earlier findings to elucidate the role of the ventral hippocampus in associative memory formation and retrieval, and how modulation of alpha7 nAChRs affect those memories.

This project will take a trans-disciplinary approach, integrating in vivo behavioural paradigms, brain-slice electrophysiology, neuronal tracing and ex vivo neurochemical techniques. Using neuronal tracing and electrophysiological techniques, the student will determine afferent projections from the ventral hippocampus, and how these are modulated by alpha7 nAChRs. Then examine how alpha7 nAChRs modulate synaptic plasticity in these neurons. Using in vivo behavioural paradigms and ex vivo neurochemical techniques, the student will investigate the role of alpha7 nAChRs in different forms of associative learning (appetitive and aversive conditioning) to link findings on a whole-animal level with those on a synaptic level.

Candidate requirements:

Candidates should be motivated to undertake a multidisciplinary project and should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent qualification gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. Experience of training and/or research in neuroscience will be a distinct advantage. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous. Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/pg/apply/english-language/index.html.

Enquiries and applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be addressed to Dr Chris Bailey on email address .

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form:

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding Notes

It is hoped funding will be secured for a 3-year university studentship with RenaSci covering UK/EU tuition fees, a stipend and an allowance for research and training expenses. This advertisement will be updated when confirmation of funding has been received. Interested candidates are invited to contact the lead supervisor for more information.

We also welcome year-round applications from applicants who can fund their own studies or secure their own external funding.


1. Diergaarde L et al (2008) Eur J Pharmacol 585:453-7
2. Masurkar AV et al (2018) J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism 8:412
3. Livingstone PD & Wonnacott S (2009) Biochem Pharmacol 78:744-55
4. Yakel JL (2014) J Physiol 592:4147-53
5. Udakis M et al (2016) Neuropharmacology 105:618-29
6. Wright V et al (2019) Addict Biol 24:590-603

How good is research at University of Bath in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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