Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of early postnatal developmental disabilities with executive dysfunction as a key co-morbid feature. Understanding pathology that disrupts sensory processing and cognition in ASD has been a major barrier to developing treatment. This Ph.D. studentship aims to investigate cellular correlates of cognitive function in animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders using a range of experimental and theoretical approaches.
The key hypotheses that will be tested are:
1) a distributed cognitive network in the prefrontal areas of the rodent brain contributes to evaluating reward-based computation.
2) specific dysfunctions of such processes will then be tested using rodent models of ASD.
The work will involve in vivo electrophysiological and optical recordings in rodents (wild-type and CRISPR mediated ASD-models of mice and rats). Computational simulation will also dovetail with the experimental work to focally perturb key sites in subdivisions of the prefrontal cortex to study functional causation of their impact on decision-making and learning and memory.
Novelty and impact:
Understanding cognitive and neurophysiological endophenotypes of neurological disorders is one of the pressing challenges of neuroscience. This work would be crucial for a better understanding of the core cognitive endophenotypes in animal models of ASD that can be further harnessed for preclinical assays and testing of therapeutics.
Student training in this project using cutting-edge techniques will involve a highly synergistic UK academic, neurological, and industry team, complemented by key collaborators in MIT (USA) and ETH-Zürich (Switzerland) offering innovative training. The knowledge gained could be quickly translated to established animal models with superior behavioural complexity (marmosets and non-Human primates) with several key collaborators in Newcastle.
Primary Advisor: Dr. Abhishek Banerjee, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, @abhii_mit, http://www.neuronic.mit.edu
Secondary Advisor: Professor Chris Petkov, Professor, Newcastle University, @cipetkov https://www.ncl.ac.uk/ion/staff/profile/chrispetkov.html#background
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: http://www.dimen.org.uk/overview/student-profiles/flexible-supplement-awards
Further information on the programme can be found on our website: http://www.dimen.org.uk/