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Investigating the link between prenatal adversity, placental endocrine dysfunction and maternal depression


   Cardiff School of Biosciences

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  Prof R John  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

In the UK, every year >100,000 infants are born to mothers who report concerning symptoms of maternal depression in pregnancy, and considerable more are exposed to maternal anxiety. Both mood disorders are associated with poorer outcomes for children including low birth weight, behavioural problems and both metabolic and cardiovascular disease later in life, with the risk of adverse outcomes differing between males and females. The purpose of this study is to ask whether placental endocrine insufficiency - where the placenta manufactures less hormones than normal - contributes to the co- occurrence of mood disorders and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes for children.

To begin to test our idea that placental endocrine insufficiency causes both maternal mood disorders and adverse outcomes for children, we will use samples from the Grown in Wales Study as a discovery resource. This study involves a relatively homogenous, biological-sample-rich, data-rich pregnancy cohort with maternal mental health history and measures of depression and anxiety symptoms at term, and at three postnatal time points. The first thing we propose doing is finding out how many women in our cohort have abnormal expression of placental hormones by measuring placental hormones in maternal blood (serum proteomics) and gene expression (transcriptomics) in the placenta. We will use this data to establish whether individual hormones or groups of hormones are expressed differently when mothers have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Because it is likely that not all women with a mood disorder will have the same underlying problem, we will also look more widely at the genome-wide molecular signatures associated with exposure to a mood disorder. If we discover placental endocrine insufficiency, at least in some pregnancies, we can then start to ask what might cause this problem and potentially use this information to develop predictive tools to benefit mothers and their children.

Training: Bioinformatic analysis of RNAseq and proteomic data, molecular techniques including QPCR and westerns, theoretical, methodological and advanced data analytic skills. 

Candidate requirements

A 1st or Upper 2nd class UK honours degree or equivalent. Please visit School of Biosciences Postgraduate Research for more details.

For those whose first language is not English, IELTS with an overall score of 6.5 with 5.5 in all subskills, or equivalent. Please see our English Language Requirements guidance for more details.

How to Apply 

To submit a formal application via Cardiff University’s online application service, click the 'Institution Website' button on this advert; in the ‘Apply’ box at the top-right of the page, select Qualification (Doctor of Philosophy), Mode of Study (Full Time) and Start Date (this can be flexible as it is a self-funded project). This will take you to the application portal.

Candidates must submit the following:

 • Supporting statement

 • CV

 • Qualification certificates

 • Proof of English language (if applicable) 

In the research proposal section of the application, specify the project title and supervisors of the project. In the funding section, specify that you will be self-funding. If you are applying for more than one Cardiff University project with the same entry intake, please note this in the research proposal section as the form only allows you to enter one title.


Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project, so students will need to source their own (tuition, bench fees if applicable, living fees if applicable).

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