PhD Project - Neural Circuits of Kinship Behaviour

Vacancy Reference Number
2022-SIDB-CLEMENS
Closing Date
16 Jan 2022
Address
University of Edinburgh

Background:

Evolutionary theory and behavioral biology suggest that kinship is an organizing principle of social behavior. The neural mechanisms that mediate kinship behavior are, however, not known. Experiments confirm a sibling-approach preference in young rat pups and a sibling-avoidance-preference in older pups. Lesions of the lateral septum eliminate such kin preferences. In vivo juxta-cellular and whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in the lateral septum show multisensory neuronal responses to kin and non-kin stimuli. Non-kin odor-responsive neurons are located dorsally and kin-odor responsive neurons are located ventrally in the lateral septum. With development, the fraction of kin-responsive lateral septal neurons decrease and ongoing firing rates increase. Lesion effects, developmental changes and the ordered representation of response preferences according to kinship—an organization we refer to as nepotopy—point to a key role of the lateral septum in organizing mammalian kinship behavior.

Rationale & hypothesis:

The PhD project will aim to address the role of neural circuits interconnected with the lateral septum to address the hypothesis that a circuitry of septal-connected regions orchestrates kin-selective behaviours and motivated decisions. The outcome of this research will provide a basis for understanding how neural circuit dysfunction gives rise to impaired social behaviours in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.  

Aims:

  1. To address the role of septal-connected circuits in kinship behaviour.
  2. To understand the plasticity of circuits involved in kin learning.
  3. To address how circuits associated with development of kinship behaviour are disrupted in models of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Training outcomes:

Students will learn a variety of techniques required to assess neural circuit function in behaviour, will gain a comprehensive knowledge of literature relevant to neuroethology and social behaviour and will gain experience working as a team and independently. By the end of the PhD, the student will achieve independence in designing and implementing experiments to address novel topics in social behaviour and how they relate to disease.