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Unravelling Exercise Training Effects on the Brain

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R M Ichiyama
    Dr J. Kwok
    Dr G N Askew
  • 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

Exercise training is known to have several beneficial effects in both health and disease states. The beneficial effects of exercise training on the brain have been linked to improvements in learning, memory, attention and several other emotional parameters such as alleviating the effects of depression. It has been known that the mechanisms by which exercise affects the brain include changes in levels of neurotrophic factors such as neurotrophin-3 and brain derived neurotrophic factor. These factors promote several neural plasticity events in the brain, such as neurogenesis, increased dendritic arborisation and synaptic efficacy. We recently found that voluntary exercise also regulates the activity of proteins which are known to prevent plasticity, i.e., inhibitory factors. In this PhD project we will investigate a number of new candidates and how they affect different areas of the brain. Parameters of exercise training (e.g., intensity, duration, mode, etc.) will be carefully investigated and their effects on the brain will be determined using several different methods using an animal model. Neural anatomical tracing, histology, immuno-, enzymatic- and protein assays will be used to quantify changes in plasticity inhibiting factors. Pharmacological and gene manipulation assays (CRISPR, AAV vectors, etc.) will be used to test specific mechanisms.

Funding Notes

4 year studentship, covering fees and stipend at RCUK level (£14,553 for 2017-18).
The PhD will start in Oct 2017. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree in a relevant subject.

As part of the studentship the successful candidate will be required to undertake a minimum of 120 hours Sports and Exercise Sciences demonstrating per annum. The studentship would therefore suit candidates with an interest in teaching.

Please apply online here, including CV and references (we don't require a research proposal):
The PhD is based in the Faculty of Biological Sciences.


Smith CC, Mauricio R, Nobre L, Marsh B, Wüst RC, Rossiter HB & Ichiyama RM Differential regulation of perineuronal nets in the brain and spinal cord with exercise training. Brain Research Bulletin (2015) 111C:20-26.

Murphy MN, Ichiyama RM, Iwamoto GA, Mitchell JH & Smith SA. Exercise pressor reflex function following acute hemi-section of the spinal cord in cats. Frontiers in Physiology (2013) ;4:3.

D. Wang, R.M.Ichiyama, R.Zhao, M. Andrews & J. Fawcett. Chondroitinase combined with rehabilitation promotes recovery of forelimb function in rats with chronic spinal cord injury. Journal of Neuroscience (2011), 31(25): 9332-9344.

R. M. Ichiyama, J. Broman, R.R. Roy, H. Zhong, V. R. Edgerton & L.A. Havton. Locomotor Training Maintains Normal Inhibitory Influence on Both Alpha- and Gamma-Motoneurons after Neonatal Spinal Cord Transection. Journal of Neuroscience (2011), 31(1): 26-33.

Sorg BA, Berretta S, Blacktop JM, Fawcett JW, Kitagawa H, Kwok JC, Miquel M. Casting a Wide Net: Role of Perineuronal Nets in Neural Plasticity. J Neurosci. 2016 Nov 9;36(45):11459-11468

Tyzack GE, Sitnikov S, Barson D, Adams-Carr KL, Lau NK,Kwok JC, Zhao C, Franklin RJ, Karadottir RT, Fawcett JW, Lakatos A. Astrocyte response to motor neuron injury promotes structural synaptic plasticity via STAT3-regulated TSP-1 expression. Nat Commun. 2014 Jul 11;5:4294.

Kwok JC, Yuen YL, Lau WK, Zhang FX, Fawcett JW, Chan YS, Shum DK. Chondroitin sulfates in the developing rat hindbrain confine commissural projections of vestibular nuclear neurons. Neural Dev. 2012 Feb 3;7:6.

Lin R, Rosahl TW, Whiting PJ, Fawcett JW,Kwok JC. 6-Sulphated chondroitins have a positive influence on axonal regeneration. PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21499.

McFarlane, L.A., Altringham, J.D. and Askew, G.N. Intra-specific variation in wing morphology and its impact on takeoff performance in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) during escape flights J. Exp. Biol. 219 1369-1377, 2016
Askew, G.N. The elaborate plumage in peacocks is not such a drag. J. Exp. Biol. 217, 3237-3241. 2014.
Holt, N.C., Roberts, T.J. and Askew, G.N. The energetic benefits of tendon springs in running: is the reduction of muscle work important? J. Exp. Biol. 217, 4365-4371. 2014.
Holt, N.C. and Askew, G.N. Locomotion on a slope: metabolic energy use, behavioural adaptations and the implications for route selection. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 2545-2550. 2012.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

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

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