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Characterizing sensory signalling at nanoscale and millisecond-order resolution

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  • Full or part time
    Prof K Staras
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Neurons communicate by the release of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles at the synapse (see Staras, Neuron 2012). Everything that we see or hear depends on the operation of synapses that are specialized to transmit sensory information. Ribbon synapses are so-called because of a unique ’ribbon’ structure that holds vesicles close to the release site and underlies their ability to sustain continuous transmission. We are interested in how this structure contributes to the first computations in the visual pathway. For example, the ribbon might act as a vesicle conveyor belt, or perhaps as a site to ’pre-fuse’ vesicles for improved information encoding. This project will test these fundamental hypotheses in transgenic zebrafish/mice using groundbreaking new technology (Leica-EM-ICE) that combines light-driven synaptic activation with synchronized ultrafast-freeze fixation for electron microscopy analysis (Watanabe, Nature, 2014). In this way, instantaneous snapshots of vesicle fusion are captured with ultrastructural resolution, allowing the millisecond-order events occurring during transmission to be directly visualized. This project, which will suit a student with good technical skills and a strong interest in neuroscience and computation, is an exciting opportunity to exploit state-of-the-art methods to reveal fundamental events in sensory signalling.

This project is offered as part of the newly created Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme entitled ’From Sensation and Perception to Awareness’, co-directed by Professor Jamie Ward and Professor Anil Seth at the University of Sussex. Each successful applicant will receive a tax free stipend at Research Council rates (currently £14777 per annum), a Home/EU fee waiver and generous research and training costs. On completion of their PhD, our programme alumni will be eligible to apply for one of several 12 month postdoctoral research fellowships at Sussex, available only to completing Leverhulme DSP scholars.
Our doctoral scholars will be immersed in an inter-disciplinary training environment including monthly seminars and an annual student-led conference on a topic related to the theme. A strong emphasis is placed on developing technical skills, and we will provide specialist training in areas such as programming. Students in this new scheme will benefit from links with existing research groups within Sussex such as Sussex Neuroscience and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

How to apply
Full information about the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme can be found here:

Applicant selecting the project above should develop this into a more detailed research proposal. Guidance on writing a research proposal can be found at

Applicant will need to apply through Sussex’s online PhD application form,, to the PhD course linked to the department of your chosen supervisor (i.e. Kevin Staras, PhD Neuroscience, School of Life Sciences) and enter ’Leverhulme’ in the sources of funding box. Your completed application should include your project proposal, your CV, and any other information requested e.g. degree certificates and transcripts and English language qualifications.

You will also need to complete the Leverhulme Funding application. You can request this by emailing [Email Address Removed]

31 January 2019 - Deadline for applications.
25 - 27 February - Interviews (note that all interviews will be conducted by the programme management committee, which is cross-disciplinary in nature).
4 March - Applicants notified regarding the outcome of their application.

Any questions concerning this research project should be directed to Prof. Kevin Staras: [Email Address Removed]
Any questions relating to the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme, or the application process, can be sent to Shelley Jenkins, Senior Doctoral School Coordinator, at [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Studentships offered under the Leverhulme DSP are competition funded. Successful applicants receive a studentship that covers UK/EU fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates.

Applicant should be UK or EU citizens and should have/expect to have at least a 2:1 undergraduate honours degree. A master's degree in a relevant discipline is strongly desirable.

Applicant must have a willingness to participate in interdisciplinary training and seminars relating to 'sensation, perception, and awareness'.


Marra V, Burden JJ, Thorpe J, Smith I, Smith SL, Hausser M, Branco T, Staras K (2012) A preferentially segregated recycling vesicle pool of limited size supports neurotransmission in native central synapses. Neuron. 76:579-589.

Related Subjects

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