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Integration of sensory input with motivational state

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  • Full or part time
    Dr James McCutcheon
    Dr J Apergis-Schoute
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

We live in a staggeringly complex world in which our brain is constantly required to process an abundance of sensory inputs. How these different inputs are processed and prioritised by the brain is a fascinating subject but one that is still poorly understood. Importantly, decisions about how to respond to a particular sensory input are strongly influenced by motivational states such as hunger or fear. For example, if an animal is hungry it is unlikely to interpret a neutral noise as a threat whereas if it is fearful the same noise may be perceived as threatening.

The neural circuits that sit at the intersection of sensory input and behavioural output have a crucial role to play in this process by integrating inputs with motivational state and allowing animals to make appropriate behavioural decisions. Understanding how these circuits work is important as several psychiatric disorders (e.g. schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder) involve dysfunctional processing of sensory input. Research into these fundamental processes will therefore shed light on these devastating conditions. Thus, the aim of this project is to understand how sensory input is integrated with motivational state and to determine the neural circuits subserve this.

On this project you will use a number of state-of-the-art techniques including in vivo calcium imaging and electrophysiology to understand how neural activity evoked by competing stimuli influences behaviour

Funding Notes

The project is part of a BBSRC-funded doctoral programme, the Midlands Innovative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP). This four-year programme involves University of Leicester, the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick and includes a skills training element that runs in Year 1. This element involves training in quantitative skills, bespoke masterclasses and mini-projects in distinct training environments (
Normal RCUK eligibility requirements apply and students are expected to have A-level maths or equivalent.


[1] Cone JJ et al (2016) PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519643113
[2] O’Connor EC et al (2015) Neuron, doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.038
[3] Zalocusky KA et al (2016) Nature, doi: 10.1038/nature17400

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