Understanding Stress Regulation and Stress Resilience in the Avian Brain

Vacancy Reference Number
Closing Date
4 Mar 2024
£19,544 p.a
Newcastle University
3 years
Bird brains diverged from mammalian brains over 300 million years ago. Over that time, the hypothalamic and brainstem mechanisms of the stress response have been remarkably conserved. The forebrain, however, evolved in very different ways in the two lineages. In this project, you will explore how the avian forebrain regulates the stress response, and how this regulation is affected by treatments aimed at increasing stress coping ability in poultry. The PhD consists of two main experiments: Experiment 1: using immediate-early-gene expression, state-of-the-art whole-brain clearing, and light-sheet microscopy, you will map the brain areas that change their activity in response to an acute stressor. In parallel, you will also investigate whether a commercial remedy aimed at increasing stress resilience changes these activity patterns and stress-related behaviours. Experiment 2: chronic stress is known to decrease the number of doublecortin-positive (DCX+) neurons in the chicken hippocampus. In this study, you will induce chronic stress in chickens and investigate whether the stress-resilience-inducing treatment can stop the reduction in DCX+ neurons. Using double-labelling immunocytochemistry you will also investigate whether hippocampal DCX+ neurons are involved in the acute stress response, as they are believed to be in mammals. Using the results from Experiment 1, you will also investigate the effect of chronic stress on the response to acute stress in other brain areas. Finally, you will investigate the effect of chronic stress (and its potential remediation) on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This project helps us understand similarities and differences between avian and mammalian brains when it comes to the regulation of the stress response. You will increase our fundamental understanding of the brain areas, neurotransmitters and cell types involved in avian stress response regulation. Increasing stress resilience is crucial to improving the welfare of commercially housed poultry. You will investigate whether stress resilience can be increased using a commercially available treatment, and if so, what the brain mechanisms are associated with increased stress resilience. This will have implications beyond birds, as stress resilience is a big topic both in animal welfare and human mental health. The project is a collaboration between the supervisory team at Newcastle University, who specialize in the effects of stress on the avian brain, the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology of Behaviour (Bonn, Germany), who are experts in the whole-brain clearing method and light-sheet microscopy, and ProBioTech International Inc., a feed supplement producer.

Further Information

FURTHER DETAILS AND A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT https://www.ncl.ac.uk/research/transformative-neuroscience/studentship/ . Please read the information there before submitting your application. Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

Complete and submit this online form: Neuroscience Studentship Application Form

You will also need to submit the following documents by email. Details of how to do this are given in the Application Form.

a CV (including contact details of two academic referees).
a covering letter. This should explain your particular interest in the projects selected, and include any additional information you feel is pertinent to your application
copies of your degree transcripts and certificates
a copy of your passport (photo page).
your English language certificate (IELTS or TOEFL certificate, where applicable)
Documents should be submitted as pdf files. Do not submit photos of certificates.

Contact Details

Email for enquires about how to apply: centreforneuroscience@newcastle.ac.uk

Informal enquiries about the project should be made to the supervisors:

Dr Tom V Smulders - tom.smulders@ncl.ac.uk