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

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

About the Project

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. 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 [1]. 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; [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 [3-5]. In combination, these approaches will provide unprecedented insight into how environmental light influences health and well-being with significant practical applications.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

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

Funding Notes

Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.

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 View Website


[1] Paul S, Brown T. (2019). Direct effects of the light environment on daily neuroendocrine control. J Endocrinol. doi: 10.1530/JOE-19-0302.

[2] Walmsley L, Hanna L, Mouland J, Martial F, West A, Smedley AR, Bechtold DA, Webb AR, Lucas RJ, Brown TM. (2015).
Colour as a signal for entraining the mammalian circadian clock. PLoS Biol. 13:e1002127.

[3] Paul S, Hanna L, Harding C, Hayter EA, Walmsley L, Bechtold DA, Brown TM. (2020). Output from VIP cells of the mammalian central clock regulates daily physiological rhythms. Nat Commun. 11:1453.

[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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