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vendredi 21 octobre 2016
Fully funded PhD position in behavioural neuroendocrinology at the University of St Andrews
PhD Project - *EASTBIO* Developmental stress and biological rhythms:
Improving our understanding of the evolutionarily conserved neural
mechanisms that underlie the ability to adapt to environmental change at
University of St Andrews, listed on FindAPhD.com
Background: Seasonal changes in the environment are evident across the
globe. Animals of all species use the presence of salient environmental
cues to generate physiological responses, which in turn regulate
seasonal rhythms in hormonal, immune and behavioural
traits (1). Within a population there is significant variation in the
ability or speed of individuals to respond to cues such as photoperiod,
food availability or temperature and this translates into variation in
the ability to match the timing of important
life cycle events to appropriate environmental conditions. There is a
wealth of evidence to show that such mismatches can significantly reduce
health, well-being and reproductive output, however the mechanism that
underpins this variation in the ability to
respond to cues, and the impact across the lifespan is little
Exposure to environmental stressors during development can have
significant implications for many phenotypic traits in later life.
So-called developmental programming has been studied in several
contexts, including the role of stress in mediating long-term
effects on health and wellbeing (2). Activation of the neuroendocrine
axis that underlies the response to stress (the HPA,
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) during sensitive developmental
periods can alter an individual’s ability to cope with stress in
later life. These events modify the HPA axis and may lead to
disruptions in the ability to regulate stress hormones (3). However the
impact of developmental stress on the neuroendocrine axis underlying the
timing of seasonal biology is not well described.
Using a comparative approach, this studentship will examine the role of
developmental stress on long-term timing of neural, physiological and
behavioural processes. The outcomes of the project will lead to a
significant gain in our understanding of the evolutionarily
conserved neural mechanisms that underlie the ability to adapt to
Study specifics: This study aims to integrate information across these
different levels: brain, physiology and behaviour to determine the
influence of early life on an individual’s ability to respond to
environmental cues, such as photoperiod, food availability
and temperature, and maintain synchrony with internal seasonal
processes. The studentship will test the hypothesis that environmental
cues impart lasting molecular (i.e. DNA methylation) and hormonal
effects on key regions within the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal/gonad
axis. The project will determine the effects of early life on the
neural and hormonal systems regulating the timing of behaviours.
Additionally, the student may incorporate novel in vivo imaging
techniques (i.e. light sheet microscopy) to identify the role
of downstream hypothalamic neurosteroid and gonadal steroids on
neuro-glial plasticity. Finally the project will investigate the
potential epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the physiological and
behavioural responses observed. The project will utilise multiple
model species that have been studied extensively in terms of biological
rhythms, including the Siberian hamster, Japanese quail and the
potential for field based research on European starling.
Training: The successful student will have the opportunity to learn a
wide range of techniques including genomic and molecular analyses, and
whole animal physiology and behaviour. Specific training includes:
experimental design, behavioural observation and
analysis, complex statistical analyses, molecular (e.g. quantitative
real time PCR, sodium bisulfite DNA/RNA methylation analysis; DNA
sequencing) cellular (e.g. brain immunocytochemistry), hormone analyses
(i.e. radioimmunoassay) and several novel, real-time
imaging techniques. The work will mainly take place at the University
of St Andrews and the student will be based within the active Mechanisms
of Behaviour research group led by Dr Karen Spencer. In addition the
student will also have the opportunity to work
in the Stevenson laboratory in the Institute of Biological and
Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.
This project is eligible for the EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership: View
This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have
been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme
start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body.
Apply by 5.00 pm on 5 December 2016 following the instructions on how to apply at: View
Informal enquiries to the primary supervisor are very strongly encouraged.
1. Stevenson TJ, Visser ME, Arnold W, et al. Disrupted seasonal biology
impacts health, food security and ecosystems. Proceedings of the Royal
Society B: Biological Sciences. 2015;282:20151453.
2. Bateson P, Barker D, Clutton-Brock T, et al. Developmental plasticity and human health. Nature. 2004;430(6998):419-21.
3. Zimmer C, Boogert NJ, Spencer KA. Developmental programming:
Cumulative effects of increased pre-hatching corticosterone levels and
post-hatching unpredictable food availability on physiology and
behaviour in adulthood. Hormones and Behavior. 2013;64(3):494-500.