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A Systems Biology Investigation of the balance between neural excitation and inhibition

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Zheng
    Prof Bojak
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Project Overview:

This project will combine electrophysiological experiments and mathematical modelling approach to investigate the balance and interaction between neural excitation and inhibition at neural population level. Recent research at cellular level demonstrated that neurons receive excitatory and inhibitory signals which were co-tuned under a range of conditions. Using mathematical models, we showed that neural signals recorded by a micro-electrode may be modelled by two components reflecting neural excitation and inhibition similar to those measured at cellular level. This work provided a theoretical framework for developing mathematical algorithms for the interpretation of field potential measurements into components of excitation and inhibition.

This project aims to use pharmacological intervention to alter the proportional balance between neural excitation and inhibition, while measuring the time courses of field potentials using multi-channel micro-electrodes under various stimulation conditions. Based on experimental evidence, we will validate and extend existing mathematical models of neural activity across cortical depth. The long term objective of this project is to establish mathematical models of scalp EEG data in order to provide inferences about the underlying components of neural excitation and inhibition. The outcome of the project is relevant to enhancing our understanding of not only normal brain functions, but also debilitating neurological disorders such as epilepsy, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia in which the balance between neural excitation and inhibition is believed to be disrupted.

We are looking for highly motivated people from either a Science/Engineering or a life science/medical background wishing to pursue a PhD in systems biology or computational neuroscience. This project will provide excellent training in conducting electrophysiological experiments and in mathematical modelling techniques.


Prof Ying Zheng (School of Systems Engineering), Prof Ingo Bojak (School of Systems Engineering) , Dr. Ben Whalley (School of Pharmacy)

School of Systems Engineering, University of Reading:

The University of Reading is one of the UK’s 20 most research-intensive universities and among the top 200 universities in the world. Achievements include the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement (1989) and the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education (1998, 2006 and 2009). This project will take place in the School of Systems Engineering (SSE), which has a strong reputation for its innovative research in computer science, cybernetics, and electronic engineering. Recent major investments have further strengthened the neuroscience activities in SSE, with two new professors, three new lecturers and the creation of a Brain Embodiment Lab. This work will be carried out in close collaboration with the School of Pharmacy.


Applicants should have a bachelors (at least 2.1 or equivalent) or masters degree in Science, Engineering, Medicine or a strongly related discipline. Strong neuroscience and/or systems engineering skills are preferable. Experience in electrophysiology and/or computer programming are desirable.

How to apply:

(1) Submit an application for a PhD in Cybernetics using the link below.
(2) After submitting your application you will receive an email to confirm receipt; email should be forwarded along with a covering letter and full CV to Prof Ying Zheng ([email protected])
(3) In the online application system, there is a section for “Research proposal” and a box that says “If you have already been in contact with a potential supervisor, please tell us who” – in this box, please enter “Ying Zheng”.

Application Deadline:

Further enquiries:
Prof Ying Zheng, tel: 0118 378 7635, email: [email protected]

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.

Students from Brazil: we welcome and support applications for the Science Without Borders Scholarship (Ciência sem Fronteiras) - http://www.reading.ac.uk/sciencewithoutbordersscholarships.


OKUN, M. & LAMPL, I. 2008. Instantaneous correlation of excitation and inhibition during ongoing and sensory-evoked activities. Nature Neuroscience, 11, 535-537
WEHR, M. & ZADOR, A. M. 2003. Balanced inhibition underlies tuning and sharpens spike timing in auditory cortex. Nature, 426, 442-446
ZHENG, Y., LUO, J. J., HARRIS, S., KENNERLEY, A., BERWICK, J., BILLINGS, S. A. & MAYHEW, J. 2012. Balanced excitation and inhibition: Model based analysis of local field potentials. Neuroimage, 63, 81-94

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