Funded PhD Opportunity A Computational Model of Regulating Neuronal Excitability by GABA Neurons

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Computer Science and Informatics


Background: It is now known that astrocytes, the major class of glial cells, detect neuronal release of excitatory neurotransmitters and respond by releasing gliotransmitters thus modulating neuronal performance. However, very little is known about how GABA uptake by astrocytes modulates activity in neuronal networks. Specifically, recent findings [4, 5] have shown that the GAT3 transporter facilitates the uptake of extracellular GABA and this is accompanied by a large increase in intracellular Na+ concentration, which can reverse the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger causing an intercellular increase in Ca2+. This may have an important role in regulating blood flow and also can result in the release of gliotransmitters, which is believed to modulate synaptic strength and transmission. Moreover, it is now believed that GAT3 induces a rise in extracellular adenosine that acts at presynaptic adenosine receptors and this is likely to cause a decrease in secondary messengers within cells. This is a completely novel mechanism of glia-neuron communication and capturing this interaction will be the major focus of this PhD.

Project Aim: This project has the aim of developing a computational model of how the transporter GAT3 mediated signalling between astrocytes and neurons. This work will build on recent research within the CNET research team based at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC), Ulster University. The CNET team have a long history of modelling the role of glial in brain function [3-5] and are now seeking a highly motivated graduate student to work with them in modelling the underlying mechanism/s for GABA uptake by astrocytes, which constitutes another form of neuron-glia signalling.

Outcome: This project will develop a computational model of the transporter GAT3 and how this transporter mediated signalling between astrocytes and neurons. Success in this project will have a major impact on existing computational models. Additionally, at the end of the PhD study period the candidate will have gained significant expertise in computational modelling and neuroscience Resources: This successful candidate will be supported by CNET team comprising academic staff and existing RA’s/PhD students with expertise in modelling astrocyte – neuron interactions. Also available to the candidate are state-of-the-art facilities which includes MATLAB/C/C++/Python and cluster computing.


[1] Doengi M, Hirnet D, Coulon P, Pape H-C, Deitmer JW and Lohr C, “GABA uptake-dependent Ca2+ signaling in developing olfactory bulb astrocytes”, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 106, 17570–5 (2009).

[2] Boddum, K. et al. Nat. Commun. (in press).

[3] Wade JJ, McDaid LJ, Harkin J, Crunelli V, Kelso JAS (2012), Self-repair in a bidirectionally coupled astrocyte-neuron (AN) system based on retrograde signalling, Front. Comput. Neurosci., 26 September 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00076.

[4] Wade JJ, McDaid LJ, Harkin J, Crunelli V, Kelso JAS (2011), Bidirectional Coupling between Astrocytes and Neurons Mediates Learning and Dynamic Coordination in the Brain: A Multiple Modeling Approach. PLoS ONE 6(12): e29445. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029445.

[5] Naeem M, McDaid L, Harkin J, Wade J, Marsland J, “On The Role of Astroglial Syncytia in Self-Repairing Spiking Neural Networks”, IEEE Trans. Neural Net. & Learning Sys, 2015.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 70%
  • For VCRS Awards, Masters at 75%
  • Publications - peer-reviewed


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
12 March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Liam McDaid

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #238194 when applying for this PhD opportunity