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Changes in cerebral blood flow trigger an increase in sympathetic nerve activity – implications following acute myocardial infarction

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Heart function is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. Following a heart attack (myocardial infarction: MI), cardiac sympathetic nerve activity (cSNA) becomes dangerously elevated, triggering irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) that often prove fatal. In those who survive the initial MI, the sympathetic hyper-excitation is irreversible and facilitates permanent structural and functional damage of the heart. cSNA is ultimately driven by the brain and we have recently shown that the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) appears to facilitate this increase in SNA following MI. However, the trigger that activates these oxytocin neurons following MI remains to be determined. Neuronal activity is modulated by cerebral blood flow (CBF). CBF is impaired in chronic heart failure, which is thought to cause the sustained increase in cSNA. Hence, a sudden decrease in CBF following an MI may trigger PVN activation providing the drive for the increase in cSNA.

Research Question and Objectives
The overall aim of this study is to test the hypothesis that decreased CBF activates PVN neurons to increase cSNA following acute MI. Specifically, i) advanced Synchrotron Radiation microangiography (Hyogo, Japan) will be utilized to image the changes in cerebral blood flow associated with acute MI, ii) changes in CBF will be correlated with PVN activation (immunohistochemistry) and cSNA (electrophysiology).

Applications to undertake a PhD in Physiology are welcome at any time. Candidates can be of any nationality and must have attained an excellent degree (MSc with significant research component or a 4 years of Bachelors with Honours degree) in biomedical science or a closely-related subject.

1. Applicants are encouraged to first contact the supervisor(s) by email with the following details:
o Your name and country of citizenship
o Your CV
o Certified academic transcript (and, if applicable, an explanation of the content)
o Certified evidence of English language proficiency (eg IELTS or TOEFL results)
o The names of two referees
2. If your application is to be considered, the supervisor will contact you to discuss the next steps, and our Departmental Administrator will check that your documents are complete.
3. Funding: The PhD project will be funded by the University of Otago doctoral scholarship (tuition fees and a tax-free personal allowance of NZD$27,000 pa for 36 month). Successful candidates are expected to apply and be awarded a scholarship.

For further information on research in the Department see our research section at

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