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Lateral hypothalamus as a visual centre controlling arousal, autonomic function and reflex behaviours

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

About the Project

In addition to supporting our conscious perception of the world around us, light and visual stimuli exert wide ranging effects on animal physiology and behaviour via hard-wired ‘reflexes’ which range from simple effects of light on sleep, alertness and neuroendocrine function to the avoidance of rapidly approaching objects. At present the neural circuitry that controls these reflexes is poorly understood.

We have recently discovered a new visual pathway in the lateral hypothalamus which includes cells that respond to both simple visual stimuli (e.g. changes in light levels) as well as neurons that selectively respond to more complicated visual stimuli such as moving objects. Since neurons in this region of the hypothalamus project to brain nuclei controlling defensive behaviour, arousal and autonomic function, we hypothesis that this hypothalamic visual pathway is specifically optimised to coordinate behavioural and physiological responses to the environment.

Under the guidance of the supervisory team, here the successful applicant will employ advanced electrophysiological and neuroanatomical approaches to define the organisation and functions of this new visual pathway. They will then use whole animal behavioural and physiological monitoring, alongside sophisticated new genetic tools (opto-/chemogenetics), to confirm the roles of this novel pathway in visual reflexes. Accordingly, this project represents a fantastic opportunity to contribute to a major advance in our understanding of visual function, suitable for motivated applicants with a degree in an appropriate branch of life sciences.

Training/techniques to be provided:
This project employs an interdisciplinary approach that exploits the latest technological advances, encompassing in vivo electrophysiological recording, neuroanatomical labelling, opto- and chemogenetic manipulation and whole animal physiological monitoring. Thus, the candidate will gain extensive experience with:
i) Multi-electrode recording techniques, the generation of complex visual stimuli and sophisticated analysis approaches for large data sets- together these will allow the successful applicant to comprehensively define the sensory capabilities of large populations of neurons in individual animals
ii) State-of-the-art virally delivered genetic manipulations- these will allow for selective labelling and manipulation of specific neurons using light or otherwise inert chemical compounds
iii) Surgical procedures, telemetry-based physiological monitoring and behavioural assays which, in conjunction with the above, will confirm the link between activity of specific neurons and integrated physiological/behavioural responses.
iv) Coding (Matlab/labview/Python) and basic electronics

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in Neuroscience or closely related subject. Candidates with experience in computer science and/or electrical engineering and an interest in Neuroscience are also invited to apply.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Pienaar A, Walmsley L, Hayter E, Howarth M, Brown TM. 2018. Commissural communication allows mouse intergeniculate leaflet and ventral lateral geniculate neurons to encode interocular differences in irradiance. J Physiol. 596:5461-5481.

Hayter EA, Brown TM. 2018. Additive contributions of melanopsin and both cone types provide broadband sensitivity to mouse pupil control. BMC Biol. 16: 83

West AC, Smith L, Ray DW, Loudon ASI, Brown TM, Bechtold DA. 2017. Misalignment with the external light environment drives metabolic and cardiac dysfunction. Nat Commun. 8: 417

Hanna L, Walmsley L, Pienaar A, Howarth M, Brown TM. 2017. Geniculohypothalamic GABAergic projections gate suprachiasmatic nucleus responses to retinal input. J Physiol. 595: 3621-3649.

Walmsley L, Hanna L, Mouland J, Martial F, West A, Smedley AR, Bechtold DA, Webb AR, Lucas RJ, Brown TM. (2015)
Colour as a signal for entraining the mammalian circadian clock. PLoS Biol. 2015 Apr 17;13(4):e1002127

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