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MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: From cells to mind: Relational neurons and computations creating mental structures crucial for learning and memory

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  • Full or part time
    Prof C Petkov
    Prof T Griffiths
    Prof M Kaiser
    Dr B Wilson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Nowadays, the vast majority of scientific advances depend on interdisciplinary training and approaches. This PhD studentship will empower and be empowered by a strong and dedicated student to advance the neural science of learning and memory by bridging work relying on (1) cellular recordings in animal models and humans, (2) neuro-computational simulation and perturbation, and (3) patients with memory deficits.

Timeliness of project:
We predict that the brain’s hippocampal-cortical memory system has a much more multifaceted role in learning and memory than currently thought, interesting new aspects of which may be found to require the hippocampus, in work with patients that have focal hippocampal atrophy. The key hypothesis is that the hippocampal-cortical system transforms most potentially meaningful relationships separated in time into “relational codes”, the brain’s memory trace not requiring continuous activity to maintain. This new way of thinking about the problem predicts the existence of ‘relational neurons’ and the nature of the neural code. Possibly time is transformed into a spatial code involving ‘place cells’, the discovery of which led to the Nobel Prize to O’Keefe & the Mosers. Alternatively, the student may discover that relational codes do not depend on place cells. Both outcomes could be theoretically impactful in whichever form they are discovered. With the ideal combination of training and support, the student can develop an exciting career trajectory as they advance knowledge on neural coding principles and on the clinical impact of hippocampal damage.

Interdisciplinary approach:
The student will receive training on cutting-edge techniques including electrophysiological recordings from the human and nonhuman primate hippocampus, computational modelling, and neuropsychological testing in patients with specific hippocampal damage. The interdisciplinary research strands will be supported by a highly synergistic UK academic, neurological and industry team, complemented by key USA partners offering innovative approaches and training. The work with patients is periodic depending on patient availability and can occur in combination with the more time demanding neurophysiological recordings in the nonhuman primates, a crucial animal model for human cognition. Computational simulation can dovetail with the experimental work and be informed by neurostimulation approaches (supported by industrial partners) to perturb key sites in cortex or the hippocampus; thereby creating focal neural disruption and studying the impact on learning and memory. The student will be based in Newcastle University (Petkov, Griffiths, Kaiser labs in lead support) with periodic visits to other UK (Phillips & Cutler from Brain Box) and US (Howard, Buffalo, Miller) partners.

Petkov, Wilson, Calmus & Kikuchi (human and primate behaviour and neurophysiology and modelling):
Griffiths, Lad & Mullally (consultant neurologist, memory disorders):
Kaiser (neuro-computational modelling):
Phillips & Cutler (Rogue Resolutions industrial partner, non-invasive neurostimulation):


Matthew Howard III (chief neurosurgeon, University of Iowa):

Elizabeth Buffalo (hippocampal recordings, University of Washington, Seattle):

Cory Miller (hippocampal recordings, University of California, San Diego):

Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:
This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.
We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.
Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here:
Further information on the programme can be found on our website:

Funding Notes

iCASE Award: Industrial partnership project
Fully funded by the MRC for 3.5yrs, including a minimum of 3 months working within the industry partner. Enhanced stipend, tuition fees and budget for consumables, travel and subsistence.
Studentships commence: 1st October 2019.

To qualify, you must be a UK or EU citizen who has been resident in the UK/EU for 3 years prior to commencement. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least a 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. All applications are scored blindly based on merit. Please read additional guidance here:
Good luck!


Kikuchi Y, Attaheri A, Wilson B, Rhone AE, Nourski KV, Gander PE, Kovach CK, Kawasaki H, Griffiths TD, Howard MA, Petkov CI. (2017) Sequence learning modulates neural responses and oscillatory coupling in human and monkey auditory cortex. PLoS Biology, 15(4), e2000219.

Cope TE, Wilson B, Robson H, Drinkall R, Dean L, Grube M, Jones PS, Patterson K, Griffiths TD, Rowe JB & Petkov CI. (2017) Artificial grammar learning in vascular and progressive non-fluent aphasias. Neuropsychologia, 104, 201-213.

Griffiths TD, Kumar S. (2017) Driving Working Memory. Neuron, 94(1):5-6.

Recent Research Excellent Framework (REF) evaluation results showed Newcastle Unit vast majority of work classified as world-leading or internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour. Compelling cases of discovery science work that leads to diagnosis and e-therapeutics are making positive public impact. See here:

How good is research at Newcastle University in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 51.58

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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