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.
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Programme: PhD in Mechanistic Biology (4 years)
Start Date: 1st October 2023
Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed mid February 2023