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Developmental Neurobiology: Why do neural tube defects affect the brain more commonly in females than in males?

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Andrew Copp
    Prof NDE Greene
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A 3-year PhD Studentship is available within the Developmental Biology of Birth Defects Section, UCL GOS Institute of Child Health under the supervision of Professor Andrew Copp and Professor Nick Greene.

Neural tube defects (NTDs; e.g. anencephaly, spina bifida) are severe birth defects resulting from failure of embryonic neural tube closure. This PhD investigates why anencephaly (open brain) is 1.5-2 times more common in females than males, whereas spina bifida (open spine) has an equal sex ratio. Mice with NTDs also show a female excess in anencephaly. Female cells inactivate one of their X chromosomes early in development, and this may limit the availability of methyl groups for control of gene expression during neurulation, possibly representing the basis of the increased anencephaly risk in females. Folates prevent some NTDs and supply methyl groups, perhaps explaining why human anencephaly is particularly prevented by folic acid. This ‘X-inactivation hypothesis’ will be tested by treating mouse embryos in culture with folates or methylation inhibitors to determine effects on female and male neural tube closure. Genetic methods will be used to breed XXY male embryos to determine if anencephaly risk is increased compared with XY males. RNA sequencing and bioinformatics analysis will be used to directly study gene expression in male and female embryos. The student will receive training in several techniques of developmental biology, including whole embryo culture, with a special focus on neurulation.

• Project Description (see

The project would be suitable for a student with a BSc in Developmental Biology, Genetics or a similar discipline. Applicants should have or expect to receive a first class or upper second class honours degree and should be ordinarily resident in the UK or EU. Knowledge and laboratory experience of research in developmental biology would be an advantage. The student will receive a stipend of £17,280 per annum as well as the cost of tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Any additional overseas’ student fees must be paid by the student. The studentship is funded by the Bo Hjelt Spina Bifida Foundation.

To apply, please send a current CV including the contact details of two professional referees, and a covering letter explaining your reasons for applying for this studentship, and giving details of any relevant experience. The application should be sent to Louise Loughlin, Programme Manager for Developmental Biology & Cancer ([Email Address Removed]). Enquiries regarding the PhD can be made direct to Professor Andrew Copp ([Email Address Removed]).

Deadline for receipt of applications: Friday 15th February 2019
Interviews will take place during late February 2019.

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