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(BBSRC DTP) Stress reactivity and social loss: the effects of adverse childhood experiences on neurobiology throughout the lifespan

Project Description

We are living in an ageing population. Roughly one in five people in the UK is aged over 65. As people live longer there is an increasing need to discover factors that promote healthy ageing. An inability to handle stress – which is often exacerbated by adverse childhood experiences (ACE) – is a key predictor of problems with cognition, such as memory, and mood in later life. A minority of those with ACE however display resilience to stress during adulthood. The reasons behind this are as yet unclear but may include genetically-determined alterations in neurobiological responses. In this project we aim to pinpoint the brain responses to social stress and social loss in people with ACE who demonstrate either resilience or vulnerabilities throughout the lifespan.

The project will examine the behavioural and biological effects of ACE using a number of complementary approaches. First, you will carry out a computational analysis of a large database to determine the imaging, psychological and demographic factors that successfully mitigate against later cognitive problems. You will then carry out a functional MRI study to test whether those who show resilience down-regulate activity in a particular neural circuit underpinning stress-reactivity, that is also implicated in anticipation of social loss [1]. Last, building on our prior research [2] you will use multi-modal imaging analyses to investigate the relative roles of white- and grey-matter connectivity in those who are stress-resilient compared to stress-vulnerable.

Throughout the project you will have the opportunity to work in a thriving academic environment with opportunities to expand your PhD studies throughout.

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. He Z, Dandan Z, Muhlert N, Elliott R. (In press). Neural substrates for anticipation and consumption of social and monetary incentives in depression. Social & Cognitive Neuroscience.
2. Workman C, Lythe K, McKie S, Moll J, Gethin J, Deakin B, Elliott R & Zahn R. (2016). Subgenual cingulate-amygdala functional disconnection and vulnerability to melancholic depression. Neuropsychopharmacology. 41 (8): 2082-90.

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