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Development of super-selective probes to target perineuronal nets for understanding the plasticity of neurons

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Dr J. Kwok, Dr R Richter, Prof Bruce Turnbull  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Are you keen in a multi-disciplinary research project combining chemistry and physics to design tools for use in neurobiology?

Perineuronal nets (PNNs) are specialised extracellular matrix structures on the surface of neurones. They control synapse formation and neuronal plasticity, but the underpinning biochemical and biophysical mechanisms are not well understood. Progress is hampered by the lack of tools to selectively label PNNs and visualise their organisation.

In this project, you will design and develop ‘superselective’ molecular probes that recognise PNNs whilst minimising interference by other brain extracellular matrix structures. You will combine bio-conjugation techniques and advanced protein biochemistry to engineer multivalent probes that recognise specifically the glycan antigens overexpressed in PNNs. You will also use state-of-the-art biophysical and cell biology techniques to evaluate superselective recognition of PNN-bearing model surfaces and neurones.

If successful, this project will provide a long-awaited tool to progress our fundamental understanding of neurobiology. In the future, it may also help tackle neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia.

This project is supported by a multi-disciplinary team of supervisors with expertise in all research areas relevant to this project. Applicants are encouraged to contact the supervisors for more information on this project before submitting their application.


You should hold a first degree equivalent to at least a UK upper-second class honours degree or a MSc degree in a relevant subject.

Applicants whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. The Faculty of Biological Sciences minimum requirements in IELTS and TOEFL tests are:

  • British Council IELTS - score of 6.0 overall, with no element less than 5.5
  • TOEFL iBT - overall score of 87 with the listening and reading element no less than 20, writing element no less than 21 and the speaking element no less than 22.

How to apply:

To apply for this project applicants should complete an online application form and attach the following documentation to support their application. 

  • a full academic CV
  • degree certificate and transcripts of marks
  • Evidence that you meet the University's minimum English language requirements (if applicable).

To help us identify that you are applying for this studentship please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;

  • Select PhD in Biological Sciences as your programme of study
  • When asked for source of funding please make it clear that you are applying for a "White Rose BBSRC DTP Studentship"
  • Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert. You can be considered for up to 3 projects in total.

If you have any further queries regarding this opportunity, please contact [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This opportunity is funded by the White Rose BBSRC DTP and will attract an annual tax-free stipend of £17,668 (based on the 2022/23 rate). The award will also cover academic fees. This opportunity is available to UK and International fee rated applicants. Please note that any expenses related to the relocation of international students to the UK (visa, insurance, NHS fees, flights, etc) would be their responsibility and are not covered by this award.

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