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Elucidating the molecular logic of neuronal diversity and connectivity of retinal ganglion cells

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, December 08, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project based in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry under the supervision of Dr Nikolas Nikolaou.

Neural circuit function and ultimately animal behaviour depends on the precise formation of synaptic connections in the brain. Deviations in the way neurons connect with one another can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. To better understand the mechanisms involved in the establishment and maintenance of neuronal connections, our lab uses the zebrafish visual system as a model. More than 20 morphological and functional subtypes of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the sole output neurons of the retina, send their axons across the midline to innervate ten diencephalic and mesencephalic arbourisation fields in the contralateral side of the brain, of which the optic tectum is the largest. Recent studies have shed light into the mechanisms that guide RGC axons to innervate a single lamina in the neuropil of the optic tectum where they establish layered-specific connections with the dendrites of tectal neurons, their post-synaptic partners. However, the molecular logic by which neuronal diversity and connectivity is achieved is still poorly understood. Key questions concern:

1. What is the molecular identity of each RGC subtype and how these features make them unique in terms of arbourisation patterns, connectivity and function?
2. How individual subtypes of RGC can be specifically labelled and characterised?
3. What are the molecular signals that promote targeting of RGCs in some arbourisation fields but not in others?
4. How cell-type specific connections are established within the retinorecipient layers of the optic tectum?
5. What is the contribution of each RGC subtype in the behavioural attributes generated by the visual centres of the brain?

Key opportunities exist for an ambitious individual with background in neuroscience, cell/developmental biology and/or genetics. You will join an ambitious and experienced new team utilising the zebrafish model to explore one or more of these questions (see references). We are using the full range of approaches available in this model system, which provides excellent opportunities for genetic manipulation and imaging. Such approaches include single cell transcriptional profiling, CRISPR/cas9 and transgenesis techniques, whole-mount immunofluorescence, together with structural and functional imaging techniques to access neuronal cell behaviour and function.

Candidate requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent qualification gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous. Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/pg/apply/english-language/index.html.


Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be addressed to Dr Nikolas Nikolaou.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form:

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding Notes

UK and EU candidates applying for this project will be considered for a University Research Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a training support grant of £1,000 per annum and a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 in 2019-20) for a period of up to 3.5 years.


Nikolaou N, Meyer MP. (2016) Lamination speeds the functional development of visual circuits. Neuron 88, 999-1013.

Lowe AS, Nikolaou N, Hunter PR, Thompson ID, Meyer MP. (2013) A systems-based dissection of retinal inputs to the zebrafish tectum reveals different rules for different functional classes during development. J. Neurosci. 33, 13946-13956.

Nikolaou N, Lowe AS, Walker AS, Abbas F, Hunter PR, Thompson ID, Meyer MP. (2012) Parametric functional maps of visual inputs to the tectum. Neuron 76, 317-324.

Nikolaou N, Meyer MP. (2012) Imaging circuit formation in zebrafish. Dev. Neurobiology 72, 346-35

How good is research at University of Bath in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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