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  Biological role of Stress Hormones

   Department of Biomedical Sciences

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


Our lab focuses on the biological roles of peptide hormones derived from pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), a protein produced in the anterior pituitary gland. These peptides have a diverse range of biological functions from being the principal stimulators of the mammalian stress axis to the regulation of feeding.

This project proposes to further investigate the action of POMC peptides on the adrenal cortex. The adrenal is a dynamic organ that requires constant stimulation from POMC peptides to maintain its size and structure and as such can dynamically respond to periods of chronic stress. We are particularly interested in the role that the N-terminal peptide of POMC, called pro-gamma-MSH has in regulating the resident stem cell population found in the adult adrenal cortex. Previous work has resulted in the isolation of a serine protease expressed by the adrenal that appears to be involved in modulating the actions of pro-gamma-MSH converting it from an inactive precursor to an active mitogenic peptide.

This project will further investigate the mechanisms by which pro-gamma-MSH stimulates adrenal growth using both in vivo and in vitro models. The project will use a wide range of modern techniques including tissue culture, immunoblotting, molecular cloning, peptide purification/characterization and immunoassay.

This project proposal can be modified to suit the interests of the applicant, although should be in the pituitary/adrenal area.

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport.

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically.

Further information:

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Biological Sciences or a strongly-related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements.
How to apply: Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Sciences at View Website



Bicknell AB et al (2001) Cell 105: 903-912.
Harmer SC and Bicknell AB (2005) Peptides 26:1944-1951.
Harmer SC et al (2008) J. Endocrinology 196: 149-158.
Bicknell KA et al (2009) Mol Endocrinology 300: 71-76

Please see Dr Andrew Bicknell's academic profile:

Register your interest for this project

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