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(BBSRC DTP) Light-dependent control of physiology via the brain’s central clock

Project Description

Aside from helping us perceive the world around us, light is a key regulator of physiology and behaviour due to its influence on the brains internal clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). This central clock in turn coordinates daily variations in the activity of all body systems so as to optimise physiology in line with expected changes in demand between day and night [1]. Importantly, however, in addition to influencing slow daily variations in the activity of body systems, the visual signals that reach the SCN from the retina also drive near instantaneous changes in the activity of clock cells that can in turn lead to very rapid changes in physiology. Such acute clock-driven response to light are believed to play important roles in producing rapid changes in arousal/alertness and mood as well as influencing secretion of key hormones and autonomic nervous system function (e.g. effect on heart rate, body temperature etc.). Determining the types of sensory signals that influence such responses is therefore of significant interest in terms of understanding the impact of artificial lighting on health and well-being and designing practical light-based therapies to produce specific physiological effects.

To this end, the successful applicant will receive training in the latest technologies that will allow them to define in detail how distinct classes of visually responsive neurons within the SCN control specific aspects of physiology. Hence, we have recently pioneered the development of sophisticated experimental techniques to demonstrate that the SCN contains subsets of neurons that respond to quite different types of visual signal (brightness, colour, spatial patterns; [1,2]).
We have also established an array of new technologies that will allow specific populations of clock cells to be identified, monitored and manipulated in intact animals [3,4], while also measuring key physiological changes [5]. In combination, these approaches will provide unprecedented insight into how environmental light influences health and well-being with significant practical applications.

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 Partnership. 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.


[1] Brown TM. (2016) Using light to tell the time of day: sensory coding in the mammalian circadian visual network.
J Exp Biol. 219:1779-92.

[2] Walmsley L, Hanna L, Mouland J, Martial F, West A, Smedley AR, Bechtold DA, Webb AR, Lucas RJ, Brown TM.
Colour as a signal for entraining the mammalian circadian clock. PLoS Biol. 13:e1002127.

[3] Hanna L, Walmsley L, Pienaar A, Howarth M, Brown TM. 2017. Geniculohypothalamic GABAergic projections gate suprachiasmatic nucleus responses to retinal input. J Physiol. 595: 3621-3649.

[4] D'Agostino G, Lyons D, Cristiano C, Lettieri M, Olarte-Sanchez C, Burke LK, Greenwald-Yarnell M, Cansell C, Doslikova B, Georgescu T, Martinez de Morentin PB, Myers MG Jr, Rochford JJ, Heisler LK. 2018. Nucleus of the Solitary Tract Serotonin 5-HT2C Receptors Modulate Food Intake. Cell Metab. 28:619-630.e5

[5] West AC, Smith L, Ray DW, Loudon ASI, Brown TM, Bechtold DA. 2017. Misalignment with the external light environment drives metabolic and cardiac dysfunction. Nat Commun. 8: 417

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