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(BBSRC DTP) A new animal test of emotional cognition

Project Description

This project will create and implement a new animal test for emotional biases in attention and memory that is more closely linked with the impact that emotion has on the same functions in humans. This is important because emotional cognition, including attending to and remembering emotional experiences, is known to be aberrant in states such as depression, one of the predominant mental health problems worldwide. Depression is the second most costly disease to treat, where current pharmacological treatment for depression fails in 30% of patients and no new pharmacological treatments have been approved for depression since 2006. This is likely due to treatments with novel mechanisms of action failing to translate from preclinical work to the clinic.

Existing animal tests of emotional memory, such as fear conditioning, are limited for two reasons. First, they do not adequately model human emotional experiences. While humans are strongly biased to attend to emotional experiences, especially negative ones (a bias that is even stronger in depression), existing animal tests involve a threat stimulus that produces avoidance, not an orienting response. Additionally, animal tests involve stimuli that are not ethologically meaningful to those animals. Second, existing tests do not capture the same type of memory that humans have for life experiences – termed episodic memory. We were the first to show that Alzheimer’s-like pathology and normal ageing each produce episodic-like memory deficits in mice, as also happens in humans. We know that emotions have a strong effect on such memories in humans but whether this holds true for preclinical rodent species has not been tested. In addition, while immediate memory for emotional experience is stronger in humans compared to more mundane experiences, existing animal paradigms involve stimuli that are remembered preferentially only after a prolonged delay and such tests rarely use emotionally-neutral stimuli.

Our project addresses each of these limitations. We have created a new test of emotional biases in attention and memory based on pairing odour with object position and novelty to positively reinforce contextual exploration (Hornoiu, Gigg & Talmi, in preparation), and a task ready to build on this innovation to test emotional memory. Our aim is to provide a proof of concept, showing that our approach captures key aspects of human emotional cognition.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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