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(BBSRC CASE) Biological mechanisms underlying the impact of visual stimuli on mood and affective state

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr Nina Milosavljevic, Dr Beatriz Bano-Otalora  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The WHO predicts mental health problems to be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally by 2030. In the last decade, evidence has emerged that the visual system represents a new neurophysiological pathway regulating mood. Understanding how visual stimuli influence mood and affective sate is very timely because people now spend >90% of their time indoors exposed to artificial lighting, and >10h/day in front of screens of numerous devices (TVs, phones, computers). Encouragingly, light can be used as an effective and non-invasive therapeutic option with little to no side effects, to improve sleep, mood, and general well-being. Light therapy is the treatment of choice for seasonal affective disorder and is emerging as a treatment for other psychiatric disorders(1,2). 

We are at an early stage of understanding the visual system’s ability to influence mood and affective state. So far we know that bright and blue light increases arousal in humans, and the supervisory team has shown that at least part of this effect can be attributed to a specific type of retinal cells in our eyes(3,4). But our visual environment is more complex and it would be naïve to think that scene brightness is the only visual sensation that can impact mood. However, we still do not know what types of visual signals are most important in regulating mood and what are the underlying biological mechanisms.  

Throughout the course of this project, the student will establish: 

  1. Which specific visual stimuli engage mood-regulating centres. 
  2. Identify the neuronal circuits via which mood centres receive visual information from the retina. 
  3. Determine how the visual stimuli identified in Objective 1 affect mood and affective state. 

Importantly, this project will make use of the powerful new neuroscience tools established for probing brain function in mice but also extend findings to diurnal rodent model, Rhabdomys(5), to provide unprecedented insight into mechanisms relevant to day-active mammals like ourselves. 

This project offers an exciting opportunity to make a step-change in our understanding of mechanisms underlying visual influences on mood and affective state by working with the supervisory team and industrial partner, the world leading lighting company Signify (formerly Philips Lighting). The student will gain training in a range of highly sophisticated laboratory skills including large-scale in vivo electrophysiological recordings in rodents, the state-of-the-art neuronal tracing in the retina and brain, and behavioural assays. The student will also benefit from a 3-month industrial placement in Signify.  


Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science, engineering or technology.   

Before you Apply 

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.  

How To Apply 

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on eligibility how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website  

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered.  If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]  

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion  

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website  

Funding Notes

Studentship funding is for 4 years. This is a 4 year CASE studentship in partnership with Signify. This scheme is open to both the UK and international applicants. We are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


1. Rybak, Y.E., et al., An open trial of light therapy in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Clin Psychiatry, 2006. 67(10): p. 1527-35.
2. Terman, M., Evolving applications of light therapy. Sleep Med Rev, 2007. 11(6): p. 497-507.
3. Milosavljevic, N., et al., Chemogenetic Activation of Melanopsin Retinal Ganglion Cells Induces Signatures of Arousal and/or Anxiety in Mice. Curr Biol, 2016. 26(17): p. 2358-63.
4. Allen, A.E., et al., Exploiting metamerism to regulate the impact of a visual display on alertness and melatonin suppression independent of visual appearance. Sleep, 2018. 41(8).
5. Bano-Otalora, B., Martial, F., Harding, C., Bechtold, D. A., Allen, A. E., Brown, T. M., Belle, M. D. C. & Lucas, R. J. Bright daytime light enhances circadian amplitude in a diurnal mammal, 2021, PNAS, 118, 22, e2100094118.
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