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Putting the spotlight on taste: behavioural and optical interrogation of the neural mechanisms of hedonic taste perception

Project Description

Our sense of taste and ability to derive pleasure from foods are essential for survival. Taste also guides our food preferences and aversions, reinforces appetitive learning, and adds pleasure to a mundane, but essential activity to maintain health. On the flip side, food-evoked pleasures may drive us to excessively eat delicious, but unhealthy foods (e.g. snack foods), while avoiding bland-tasting, but healthy foods (e.g. vegetables). Hence, it is important to understand mechanisms that drive food preferences, taste perceptions, and how these determine eating patterns. This PhD studentship will allow you to use state-of-the-art methodologies to probe the neural circuitry involved in taste hedonics in mice, focusing on interactions between the hypothalamus, nucleus accumbens and other forebrain regions (Ziminski et al. 2017); these include fibre-photometric measurement of calcium signals and optogenetics to manipulate discrete neural pathways (Emiliani et al 2015). Detailed analysis of consumption patterns provides us a window into the perception of hedonic rewards, to examine how physiological states (e.g. hunger), learnt changes in value, and/or levels of motivations (e.g. effort required to obtain food) might affect them. Candidates should have a background in behavioural neuroscience (or related field) and be motivated to work independently.

This project is offered as part of the newly created Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme entitled ’From Sensation and Perception to Awareness’, co-directed by Professor Jamie Ward and Professor Anil Seth at the University of Sussex. Successful applicant will receive a tax free stipend at Research Council rates (currently £14777 per annum), a Home/EU fee waiver and generous research and training costs. On completion of your PhD, our programme alumni will be eligible to apply for one of several 12 month postdoctoral research fellowships at Sussex, available only to completing Leverhulme DSP scholars.

Our doctoral scholars will be immersed in an inter-disciplinary training environment including monthly seminars and an annual student-led conference on a topic related to the theme. A strong emphasis is placed on developing technical skills, and we will provide specialist training in areas such as programming. Students in this new scheme will benefit from links with existing research groups within Sussex such as Sussex Neuroscience and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

How to apply
Full information about the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme can be found here:

Applicant selecting the project above should develop this into a more detailed research proposal. Guidance on writing a research proposal can be found at Applicants will need to apply through Sussex’s online PhD application form,,
to the PhD course linked to the department of your chosen supervisor (i.e. Eisuke Koya, PhD Psychology, School of Psychology) and enter ’Leverhulme’ in the sources of funding box.

Your completed application should include your project proposal, your CV, and any other information requested e.g. degree certificates and transcripts and English language qualifications.

You will also need to complete the Leverhulme Funding application. You can request this by emailing

31 January 2019 - Deadline for applications.
25 - 27 February - Interviews (note that all interviews will be conducted by the programme management committee, which is cross-disciplinary in nature).
4 March - Applicants notified regarding the outcome of their application.

Any questions concerning this research project should be directed to Dr Eisuke Koya:
Any questions relating to the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme, or the application process, can be sent to Shelley Jenkins, Senior Doctoral School Coordinator, at

Funding Notes

Studentships offered under the Leverhulme DSP are competition funded. Successful applicant receive a studentship that covers UK/EU fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates.

Applicants should be UK or EU citizens and should have/expect to have at least a 2:1 undergraduate honours degree. A master's degree in a relevant discipline is strongly desirable.
Applicants must have a willingness to participate in interdisciplinary training and seminars relating to 'sensation, perception, and awareness'.

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