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Genetic and molecular mechanisms of brain structural plasticity and neurodegeneration

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The project will test the potential of a molecular mechanism that we recently discovered, in modulating brain structural plasticity versus neurodegeneration. The brain changes throughout life: neurons, neurites and synapses are formed enabling us to adapt and learn; and they are also eliminated, to maintain homeostasis, and these destructive forces take over in ageing and brain disease (from depression to neurodegeneration). The cost of brain diseases to society doubles that of cancer and cardiovascular diseases put together, so it is urgent to discover novel molecular mechanisms that can promote plasticity, reduce degeneration, and could be targeted with drugs or stem cells, to treat brain disease. We have recently discovered a novel mechanism that regulates these constructive and destructive cellular events. Now we aim to test the power of this mechanism in promoting neuroprotection and plasticity. We use the fruit-fly Drosophila, as a model organism, as this is the most powerful genetic model organism to discover molecular mechanisms and investigate gene function in vivo, in time-lapse, with single cell and neural circuit resolution. Ultimately, our findings will have important implications to understand how to regulate brain plasticity and neurodegeneration also in humans. The project will use technical approaches of Drosophila genetics, molecular biology, cell culture, microscopy and imaging, optogenetics, computational modelling and behaviour.

You can apply to carry out this project both within the MIBTP programme and also outside it, by applying to a variety of sources of funding.

For MIBTP the application deadline is 7 January 2019.


• Ulian- Benitez S, Bishop S, Foldi I, Wentzell J, Okenwa C, Forero M, Zhu B, Moreira M, Phizacklea M, McIlroy G, Gay NJ, Hidalgo A (2017) Kek-6: a truncated Trk-like receptor for Drosophila Neurotrophin 2 regulates structural synaptic plasticity. PLoS Genetics, 13(8): e1006968
• Foldi I, Anthoney N, Harrison N, Gangloff M, Verstak B, Ponnadai Nallasivan M, AlAhmed S, Phizacklea M, Losada-Perez M, Moreira M, Gay NJ and Hidalgo A (2017) Three-tier regulation of cell number plasticity by neurotrophins and Tolls in Drosophila. J Cell Biol 216(5):1421
• McIlroy G, Foldi I, Aurikko J, Wentzell JS, Lim MA, Fenton JC, Gay NJ and Hidalgo A (2013) Toll-6 and Toll-7 function as neurotorphin receptors in the Drosophila melanogaster CNS. Nature Neuroscience 16, 1248-1256. doi: 10.1038/nn.3474.
• Zhu, Pennack, McQuilton, Forero, Mizuguchi, Sutcliffe, Gu, Fenton and Hidalgo (2008) Drosophila Neurotrophins reveal a common mechanism for nervous system formation. PLoS Biology 6, e284

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

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

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