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BBSRC White Rose DTP Studentship - Compartmentalised synaptic plasticity underlying associative memory


   School of Biosciences

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  Dr A Lin, Prof M Juusola  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

If a neuron is connected to multiple partners, and it needs to change its connection strength with one partner but not the others, how does it do that? That is, what mechanisms underlie the specificity of synaptic plasticity?

We are studying a form of synaptic plasticity that underlies associative memory in the fruit fly Drosophila (how flies learn to associate a specific odour with reward or punishment). Here, learning makes neurons called “Kenyon cells” weaken their synapses onto postsynaptic neurons called “mushroom body output neurons” (MBONs), but not their synapses onto dopaminergic neurons or an inhibitory neuron called APL. This specificity is puzzling because this weakening occurs by Kenyon cells reducing their neurotransmitter release, yet their synaptic release sites onto dopaminergic neurons and APL are right next to their release sites onto MBONs. How can such exquisite synaptic specificity be possible in such a small space?

We’ll test the hypothesis that synaptic plasticity signalling takes place in spatially confined “microdomains”. We’ll do this using a combination of two-photon imaging to record neural activity, plus analysing the fly connectome and using new super-resolution techniques like expansion microscopy (where the brain is blown up to 4x its normal size, revealing otherwise-invisible details).

The BBSRC WR DTP and the University of Sheffield are committed to recruiting future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and we have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Note: Relocation costs for international students to the UK (visa, insurance, NHS fees, flights, etc) will be the responsibility of the student 

Entry Requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. 

 Click to apply

Programme: PhD in Mechanistic Biology (4 years)

Start Date: 1st October 2023

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed mid February 2023


Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:
• Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£17,668 for 2022 starts)
• UK tuition fees (£4,596 for 2022)
• Research support and training grant (RSTG)
We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and 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

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