2017 Intake – Neuroscience and Mental Health Projects

Projects for an October 2018 start are now available on our Available Projects page. To give you an idea of the types of project that might be on offer, please find below a brief outline of the projects that were advertised for an October 2017 start under the Neuroscience and Mental Health theme below.  Projects for an October 2018 start under this theme can be found here.


A neurocognitive investigation of the role of reinforcement learning in updating dysfunctional self-schema in depression: A putative mechanism for antidepressant action? 
Dysfunctional self-schema are central to neurocognitive models of depression, and implicated in mediating response to treatments. This project will investigate the role of social reinforcement learning in updating self-schema as a putative mechanism of the therapeutic effect of antidepressants using neurocognitive assessment in depressed patients.
Supervisor: Dr Katherine Button.
Lead Institution: Bath.

Synaptic and circuit development in cerebral cortex in a mouse model of schizophrenia
Neurodevelopmental diseases, such as schizophrenia, occur because neuronal circuits are not wired up correctly early in life. In this project, using cutting-edge two-photon microscopy, we will investigate how loss of the schizophrenia-related DISC1 gene, impairs the synaptic processes that drive neuronal circuit assembly in the young brain.
Supervisor: Dr Michael Ashby.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Defining deregulated endolysosomal sorting in Parkinson disease

The endolysosomal network serves an essential neuroprotective role in age-related neurodegenerative disease. This project will build on our identification of an endosomal sorting complex, termed retromer-like (RETL), and how defects in RETL activity are associated with Parkinson disease and other neurological disorders.
Supervisor: Professor Peter Cullen.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Is the ubiquitin ligase Siah1 neuroprotective in Alzheimer’s disease?

Early features of Alzheimer’s disease include mitochondrial and synaptic dysfunction. This PhD will test the hypothesis that manipulating the interactions between mGluRs, the ubiquitination and SUMOylation pathways, and the mitochondrial GTPase Drp1 can protect neurons and may help delay or prevent the onset of dementia.
Supervisor: Professor Jeremy Henley.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Functional consequences of biased signalling at neuronal G protein-coupled receptors

The discovery of biased agonism at GPCRs has revolutionised pharmacological research and presented opportunities for the development of novel drugs to treat a range of disease states. This proposal will address a key unanswered question in the field: what are the long-term consequences of biased signalling at neuronal GPCRs?
Supervisor: Professor Eamonn Kelly.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Genetic risk factors involved in brain circuit changes caused by early life adversity

Stressful experiences caused by early life adversity are highly significant in determining a child’s future susceptibility to a range of psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression. This project aims to investigate genetic factors that may influence this susceptibility and the brain circuits perturbed by these events.
Supervisor: Professor Jack Mellor.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Epigenomic control of glucocorticoid hormone action in the brain after stress: relevance for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation and anxiety-related behaviour

This PhD studentship is an exciting project on how stress impacts on the brain at the molecular level and its physiological and behavioural consequences. The student will apply cutting-edge epigenetic technologies (ChIP, bisulfite-sequencing, 3C) and behavioural tests on stress models to gain insight into the aetiology of major depression and PTSD.
Supervisor: Professor Johannes Reul.
Lead Institution: Bristol.

Placental programming of infant neurodevelopment in the context of maternal care

A mother’s mental health status during pregnancy and after birth is intimately linked to her child’s neurodevelopmental outcomes. This project will exploit two human cohort studies to explore the hypothesis that placental endocrine function contributes to both maternal mental health disorders and to poor neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Supervisor: Professor Rosalind John.
Lead Institution: Cardiff.

Characterising brain dynamics alternations in young adults at increased genetic risk for Late Onset Alzheimer’s disease

Using advanced brain imaging and novel mathematical approaches, we will identify brain networks that show dynamic changes in young adults at heightened genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease in later life. With access to longitudinal cohort data, we will further explore how the alternations of brain dynamics potentially impact cognitive performance.
Supervisor: Dr Jiaxiang Zhang.
Lead Institution: Cardiff.

Overnight therapy:  treating PTSD through sleep engineering 

Recollection of traumatic memories in PTSD is highly distressing and linked to suicide risk and depression. We aim to develop a non-invasive treatment for PTSD through manipulation of sleep. Negative memories can become less distressing if they are neurally reactivated during sleep. We will explore reactivation at both systems and cellular levels.
Supervisor: Professor Penelope Lewis.
Lead Institution: Cardiff.

The selfish brain: using high resolution 7 Tesla MRI of the human brain to investigate hypertension

The brain’s need to maintain a blood supply at all costs may be a common cause of high blood pressure. This project at the interface of neuroscience and physics will develop ultra-high field (7T) magnetic resonance imaging to understand the neural circuits and blood vessels in the human brain that are important for the control of blood pressure.
Supervisor: Professor Richard Wise.
Lead Institution: Cardiff.

Circuit mechanisms of disrupted neuronal network function in Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting multiple brain regions. Using in vivo and in vitro electrophysiology, this project aims to understand the cellular mechanisms underlying disrupted slow oscillations in mouse models of dementia. This network rhythm is prominent during sleep and is essential for memory consolidation.
Supervisor: Dr Michael Craig.
Lead Institution: Exeter.

Investigating the role of pulsatile hypothalamic signals in regulating the dynamics of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

In this project, we will combine mathematical modelling with experimental physiology techniques to investigate how pulsatile hypothalamic neuropeptide release orchestrates the dynamic activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a vital stress-responsive neuroendocrine system.
Supervisor: Dr Jamie Walker.
Lead Institution: Exeter.

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