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MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Investigating Cognitive Correlates of Circuit dysfunctions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Banerjee
    Prof C Petkov
  • 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

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.

Experimental Approach:

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,

Secondary Advisor: Professor Chris Petkov, Professor, Newcastle University, @cipetkov

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

Studentships are fully funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) for 3.5yrs.
- Stipend at national UKRI standard rate
- Tuition fees
- Research training and support grant (RTSG)
- Travel allowance

Studentships commence: 1st October 2020.

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!


- Banerjee et al. (2019) Towards a better diagnosis and treatment of Rett syndrome: A model synaptic disorder BRAIN Jan 12. doi: 10.1093/brain/awy323.

- Banerjee et al. (2016) Jointly reduced inhibition and excitation underlies circuit-wide changes in cortical processing in Rett Syndrome. PNAS 113(46):E7287-E7296.

- Kikuchi et al. (2017) Sequence learning modulates neural responses and oscillatory coupling in human and monkey auditory cortex. PLoS Biol. 2017 Apr 25;15(4):e2000219.

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