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The genetics of cognitive ageing: neuromodulators and prefrontal cortex

Project Description

Neuromodulators including dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and acetylcholine have been implicated in numerous cognitive functions and behaviours. Across the life-span neuromodulators, maintain functional dynamics among large-scale brain networks controlling cognitive performance. Recent research suggests that genetic variation, leading to either elevated or decreased levels of neuromodulators in the prefrontal cortex, have impact on the functional dynamics of the cognitive control networks, and underlie inter-individual variability in numerous cognitive abilities. The PhD project is based on the idea that similar genetic influences on the prefrontal cortex, and associated brain networks, underlay the widely reported but poorly understood heterogeneity in cognitive ageing.

The student working on this project will explore the hypothesis that advantageous genetic make-up, enhancing neuromodulation across lifespan, supports maintaining higher efficiency of the prefrontal cognitive control networks, translating into better-preserved cognition in older adults. Unlike prior genetic research in cognitive ageing, which predominantly focused on linking genetic variance to behavioural performance using either candidate gene or genome-wide association study approaches, the proposed work will investigate polygenic effects on the network connectivity. By systematically examining the association between genetic variability in common neuromodulators (dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and acetylcholine) and the prefrontal cortex connectivity, this project will further the understanding of the mechanisms of cognitive ageing.

This is a multidisciplinary project combining methods at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and computational biology. The project provides an excellent opportunity for the student to be trained in cutting-edge methods in psychology, neuroscience, neuroimaging, and computer/data science.

Research techniques and training:
• Programming Skills (e.g., Bash, Python, Matlab, R)
• Advances statistical and machine learning analyses
• Functional and Structural connectivity analysis (advanced brain imaging analysis methods)
• Genetic analysis

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP), a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership between the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and Aston University and Harper Adams University. Successful candidates will start in October 2020. Full information about application process and eligibility is available via
View Website
View Website

Deadline: 12th January, 2020

***IMPORTANT*** Prior to submitting a PhD application via the University of Birmingham on-line application system, all interested candidates should first contact Dr Magda Chechlacz at .


Avery, M. C., & Krichmar, J. L. (2017). Neuromodulatory Systems and Their Interactions: A Review of Models, Theories, and Experiments. Front Neural Circuits, 11, 108.
Briand, L. A., Gritton, H., Howe, W. M., Young, D. A., & Sarter, M. (2007). Modulators in concert for cognition: modulator interactions in the prefrontal cortex. Prog Neurobiol, 83, 69-91.
Braver, T. S., & Barch, D. M. (2002). A theory of cognitive control, aging cognition, and neuromodulation. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 26, 809-817.
Harris, S. E., & Deary, I. J. (2011). The genetics of cognitive ability and cognitive ageing in healthy older people. Trends Cogn Sci, 15, 388-394

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

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

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