Department of Biological and Medical Sciences

Building a nervous system: Analysis of transport and assembly mechanisms in synapse formation

  • Project Title: From genes to species: Investigating the contribution of evolutionary change in tartan to mating behaviour and reproductive isolation

    Director of Studies and main supervisor: Dr Maike Kittelmann  

    Opportunity to list 2nd and 3rd supervisors if you wish: Prof. Isabel Bermudez-Diaz and Prof. Alistair McGregor

    Whether Project is: Competition Funded Project (EU and UK students only)

    Application deadline: 3rd January 2019

    Project Description:

    In order for animals to react to an internal or external stimulus with the appropriate behaviour, the input signals need to be received, processes and transmitted correctly to the effector cells, e.g. muscle cells. This process is facilitated by neurons, which can be interconnected and form complex nervous systems. The contact between neurons and their target cells are called synapses. They contain vesicles filled with chemical neurotransmitters that can be released into the synaptic cleft and bind to receptors on the surface of the target cell and in such a way pass on the information. The fusion of these vesicles is highly regulated in time and space in the so called active zone within the synapse. It is characterised by an elaborate protein scaffold that forms electron dense projections of different shapes and sizes depending on the organisms and synapse type. It is thought that these dense projections provide a scaffold for the fusion machinery and physically recruit the synaptic vesicles to the active zone and guide them towards the membrane. However, despite such an important function in the regulation of neurotransmission, it is still not well understood how these dense projections are assembled, what their components are and how their shape reflects their specific function. My lab takes advantage of the well characterised nervous system of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to tackle exactly those questions. The aim of the PhD project is to take so far uncharacterized mutants with defects in active zone formation and synaptic protein transport and characterise them by functional assays and electrophysiology as well as confocal and electron microscopy. Additionally, mass spec and RNAi screens will be used to identify new components to further understand how these specific connections between neurons are formed to build a functional nervous system.

    Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
    Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
    Eligibility: Home UK/EU applicants who must be permanently resident in UK/EU (or International by special exception)
    Closing date: 3rd January 2019
    Duration: three years
    Start date: September 2019
    Value p.a.: Bursary equivalent to RCUK national minimum stipend plus fees (2018/19 bursary rate is £14,777)

    Please note only EU/UK nationals/permanent residents are eligible to apply for this studentship. Please do not apply if you are not a UK/EU national/permanent resident. If you are not sure if you are eligible please contact Research Administrator,

    There is an additional requirement to undertake up to 6 hours undergraduate teaching/week during semesters and to participate in a teaching skills course without further remuneration.

    For further information contact Dr Maike Kittelmann ( or Prof. Isabel Bermudez-Diaz (

    Applicants should have (or be expecting) a first class or upper second class honours degree from a Higher Education Institution in the UK or acceptable equivalent qualification. EU Applicants must have a valid IELTS Academic test certificate with an overall minimum score of 7.0 and no score below 6.0 issued since 1st September 2016 by an approved test centre. We are prepared to consider alternative acceptable evidence of English Language ability.

    How to apply:

    Completed application forms should be emailed to together with a CV.