Coventry University Featured PhD Programmes
University of Southampton Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Birkbeck, University of London Featured PhD Programmes
Cardiff University Featured PhD Programmes

EASTBIO Neuroplasticity of a spinal motor circuit

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

One primary function for vertebrate spinal cord is to generate commands to control rhythmic locomotion like walking, swimming or running. The neural mechanisms underpinning such rhythm generation have been under intensive investigation for decades, but progresses have been slow (Kiehn 2016). One interesting but understated feature of the locomotor rhythm generation circuit is its plasticity, i.e. locomotion rhythms can still be generated in many experimental conditions though less commonly in injury. For example, a half-spinal cord has been demonstrated to be able to generate motor commands suitable for driving locomotion in a variety of vertebrates. In frog tadpoles, a much simpler vertebrate, we have showed that the tadpole spinal cord can still generate swimming-like rhythms when half of the spinal cord is pharmacologically or surgically removed (li et al., 2010; Moult et al., 2013). This suggests the importance of some pace-maker cells (like those driving heart beats). Since we have already disclosed the main structure of tadpole spinal circuit, we have identified the pace-maker neurons to be the excitatory interneurons with ipsilateral axon projections, which is the only one identified so far in any vertebrate.
This project plans to investigate what molecular mechanisms give rise to the pace-maker properties in the excitatory interneurons. Possible candidate ionic currents include NMDA receptors, Ih currents, persistent sodium currents and some low-voltage activated calcium currents. Whole-cell recordings in current- or voltage-clamp mode will be made in conjunction with pharmacology and the dynamic-clamp technology to identify these currents and analyse their properties. Additionally, some anti-sense RNAs will be designed and injected into early embryonic cells to suppress the expression of these ion channels to investigate how (some of) these important molecules affect pace-maker firing in the excitatory interneurons and how swimming-rhythm generation will be affected in animal behaviour. The findings will provide fundamental insights into how a spinal cord functions from molecular to system levels.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership View Website. This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body.

Apply by 5.00 pm on 5 January 2020 following the instructions on how to apply at: View Website

Informal inquiries to the primary supervisor are very strongly encouraged.


Kiehn, O., (2016). Decoding the organization of spinal circuits that control locomotion. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2016 Apr; 17(4): 224–238.
Li, W.C., Roberts, A., and Soffe, S.R. (2010). Specific brainstem neurons switch each other into pacemaker mode to drive movement by activating NMDA receptors. J Neurosci 30, 16609-16620.
Moult Peter R, Cottrell GA, Li W-C (2013) Fast Silencing Reveals a Lost Role for Reciprocal Inhibition in Locomotion. Neuron 77:129-140.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.