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(MRC DTP) The role of eye movements in memory processing in Neurofibromatosis type 1

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Montaldi
    Dr S Garg
    Dr Alexandros Kafkas
    Dr Emma Burkitt-Wright
  • 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

Neurofibromatosis type 1(NF1) is a common single gene autosomal dominant genetic disorder affecting 1 in 2500 people. Around 80% children with NF1 are affected by cognitive impairments and approximately 50% are affected by neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). NF1 regulates Ras-GTP signaling, which is critically involved in regulating cognitive functions including learning and memory. Impaired NF1 function leads to overactivity of Ras signalling, increased GABA mediated inhibition and impairments in synaptic plasticity and long-term potentiation. The downstream neurophysiological mechanisms supporting memory processing in humans with NF1 however are much less understood. Targeted drug treatments (such as Simvastatin) reverse the NF1 associated cognitive impairments in animal models but translational clinical trials in humans have been unsuccessful. There are no current treatments for NF1 associated social and learning impairments, which often result in lifelong social and occupational disability.
In healthy populations, eye movements and ‘looking’ behaviour has been found to be intrinsically linked to memory encoding, retrieval and recognition. Eye movements have been used as a measure of memory and recent research suggests it is possible to predict subsequent memory from eye movement patterns during the encoding phase (Bylinskii et al, 2015). Studying oculomotor activity and pupillometry through the use of eye tracking technology provides a non-invasive measure of brain function. Furthermore, pupillary reactivity provides a measure of the autonomic nervous system, which is also linked to memory processing systems (e.g., Kafkas & Montaldi, 2012, 2015). To date, such methods to investigate the brain function have not been used in NF1. The aim of this study is to investigate the role of oculomotor function and pupillary response in NF1 during memory processing. Secondly it will investigate the role of the autonomic nervous system in memory formation. This study will elucidate the neurophysiological correlates of the cognitive impairments observed in NF1 and identify biomarkers that can be used for early identification of cognitive impairments or serve as a treatment targets in future translational investigations.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website

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