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  White Rose BBSRC DTP: Compartmentalised synaptic plasticity underlying associative memory

   White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership

  Dr A Lin, Prof M Juusola  Sunday, January 07, 2024  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

If a neuron is connected to multiple partners, and it needs to change its connection strength with one partner but not the others, how does it do that? That is, what mechanisms underlie the specificity of synaptic plasticity?

We are studying a form of synaptic plasticity that underlies associative memory in the fruit fly Drosophila (how flies learn to associate a specific odour with reward or punishment). Here, learning makes neurons called “Kenyon cells” weaken their synapses onto postsynaptic neurons called “mushroom body output neurons” (MBONs), but not their synapses onto dopaminergic neurons or an inhibitory neuron called APL. This specificity is puzzling because this weakening occurs by Kenyon cells reducing their neurotransmitter release, yet their synaptic release sites onto dopaminergic neurons and APL are right next to their release sites onto MBONs. How can such exquisite synaptic specificity be possible in such a small space?

We’ll test the hypothesis that synaptic plasticity signalling takes place in spatially confined “microdomains”. We’ll do this using a combination of two-photon imaging to record neural activity, plus analysing the fly connectome and using new super-resolution techniques like expansion microscopy (where the brain is blown up to 4x its normal size, revealing otherwise-invisible details).

About the DTP

This studentship is offered as part of the White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) in Mechanistic Biology, which brings together the research of the world-class molecular and cellular bioscience centres at the White Rose universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

Our mission is to train excellent bio-scientists who understand how living systems work

and can innovate to address global challenges, such as the impact of climate change, a healthier old age, sustainable food production, land use and energy production.

What is on offer?

This is a core/iCASE studentships for entry in October 2024.  

Join us and you will receive a 4-year, funded PhD programme of research and skills training, with cross-disciplinary supervision, plus a structured programme of cohort-wide training and networking events. A highlight is the annual symposium, which is planned and delivered by students.

A unique part of your training will be the Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS), where you will spend three months at a host organisation of your choosing, gaining experience of work in a professional environment, and acquiring transferable skills that will be beneficial in your future career.

How to apply – Expression of Interest

Students may apply for up to three projects anywhere in the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP).  Applications will be to the DTP centrally, using an online Expression of Interest (EoI). The EoI will include:

§ CV information; not submitted separately

§ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) data

§ Names of two referees

Deadline for EoIs is midnight Sunday 7th January 2024.

Submit EoIs using this link:

Shortlisted candidates will be required to make formal applications to the Graduate School at each institution, supplying the necessary paperwork.

Interviews will be held either Friday 2nd and Monday 5th to Friday 9th February, or Monday 19th to Friday 23rd and Monday 26th February 2024, in-person at Leeds, Sheffield and York, with a panel representing all 3 Universities. Shortlisted candidates will be notified of a specific time/date to attend. If you have applied for more than one project and are selected for interview, you will be interviewed only once.  

Biological Sciences (4) Mathematics (25)

Funding Notes

Appointed candidates will be fully funded for 4 years:
 Tax-free annual stipend at the UKRI rate. The rate for starters in 2023/24 was £18,622. (Rates for 2024/25 starters are not yet available).
 UKRI tuition fees – These are paid directly to the host institution.
 A Research Training and Support Grant
 An allowance for Fieldwork/Conference/Travel
 A Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) allowance
Not all projects will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.


Abdelrahman NY, Vasilaki, E, Lin AC (2021). Compensatory variability in network parameters enhances memory performance in the Drosophila mushroom body. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118, e2102158118
Amin H, Apostolopoulou AA, Suárez-Grimalt R, Vrontou E, Lin AC (2020). Local inhibition in the Drosophila mushroom body. eLife, 9, e56954.
Apostolopoulou AA, Lin AC (2020). Mechanisms underlying homeostatic plasticity in the Drosophila mushroom body in vivo. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, 16606-15.
Bielopolski N, Amin H#, Apostolopoulou AA#, Rozenfeld E#, Lerner H, Huetteroth W, Lin AC*, Parnas M*. (2019). Inhibitory muscarinic acetylcholine receptors enhance aversive olfactory learning in adult Drosophila. eLife, 8, e48624. #,* equal contribution.
1. Kemppainen J, Scales B, Razban Haghighi K, Takalo J, Mansour N, McManus J, Leko G, Saari P, Hurcomb J, Antohi A, Suuronen J-P, Blanchard F, Hardie RC, Song Z, Hampton M, Eckermann M, Westermeier F, Frohn J, Hoekstra H, Lee C-H, Huttula M, Mokso R &. Juusola M (2022). Binocular Mirror-Symmetric Microsaccadic Sampling Enable Drosophila Hyperacute 3D-Vision. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119 (12), e2109717119.
Establishes a new dynamic super-resolution stereo information sampling theory and demonstrates how the mirror-symmetric left and right eyes' photoreceptor microsaccades are necessary for the fly stereopsis.
A paradigm shift (passive/static → active/dynamic) in understanding how compound eyes work.
2. Kemppainen J, Mansour N, Takalo J & Juusola M (2022). High-speed imaging of active sampling in the open and fused rhabdom compound eyes. Communication Biology 5 (1), 1-16.
3. Li X, Abou Tayoun A, Song Z, Dau A, Rien D, Jaciuch D, Dongre S, Blanchard F, Nikolaev A, Zheng L, Bollepalli MK, Chu B, Hardie RC, Dolph PJ & Juusola M (2019). Ca2+-activated K+ channels reduce network excitability, improving adaptability and energetics for transmitting and perceiving sensory information. Journal of Neuroscience 39: 7132-7154.
Links in vivo and ex vivo experiments with detailed stochastically operating biophysical models to extract new mechanistic knowledge of how Drosophila photoreceptor-interneuron-photoreceptor circuitry homeostatically retains its information sampling and transmission capacity against chronic perturbations in its ion-channel composition, and what is the cost of this compensation and its impact on optomotor behaviour.
4. Juusola M, Dau A, Song Z, Solanki N, Rien D, Jaciuch D, Dongre S, Blanchard F, de Polavieja GG, Hardie RC & Takalo J (2017). Microsaccadic sampling of moving image information provides Drosophila hyperacute vision. ELife 6:e26117 (149 pp) DOI: 10.7554/eLife.26117
Demonstrates how fly compound eyes exploit image motion to see hyperacute spatial details, over >4-times finer than their optical limit, elucidating how acuity depends upon photoreceptor function and eye movements.
These results transform our understanding of how animals see by showing an important relationship between eye movements and visual acuity.