The Neural Circuitry Mediating Multisensory Integration in Platynereis Larvae - Mathematics - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2901

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr James Rankin
Prof Gáspár Jékely

Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project Description
This interdisciplinary project will use mathematical modelling to understand the neural circuitry behind multisensory integration in the larvae of a marine annelid, Platynereis dumerilii. The development and analysis of models will rely on techniques from dynamical systems theory including bifurcation analysis.

Experimental studies of the neural anatomy and behaviour of Platynereis are proving central in revealing the evolutionary origin of visually guided movement. The organism measures 3-5 cm in length when fully developed (after 3 months). Complex behaviour  – driven by multisensory integration – is already evident during early stages of development (2-4 days), despite having only 10s-100s of neurons. At this time the organism’s swimming behaviour is guided by light direction (typically moving towards light), however, mechanosensory stimulation from the surrounding environment, e.g. signalling obstacles, switches the swimming direction. Electron microscopy has provided a complete picture of the organism’s neural circuitry (connectome) in the larval stage. In order to fully exploit this information, a neural network model is needed to pinpoint the role of individual cells in driving the organism’s behaviour. The aim of the research is to develop a neural network model of Platynereis to 1) understand how multisensory integration functions and leads to different movements, 2) generate experimentally testable predictions about behaviour when the neural circuity is disrupted, 3) identify general principles about the computations performed by small neural circuits that extend to more complex organisms.

It is hypothesised that multisensory integration in Platynereis results from competition between the signals from inhibitory interneurons associated with visual and mechanosensory inputs. Initially modelling efforts will centre on the feedforward circuit from eyes to motorneurons on either side of the body. These send signals (along axons) that drive directional movement via bending of the trunk while the larva is propelled by cilia.  A detailed model of the motor neuron’s axon will be built by adapting the Hodgkin-Huxley cable equation and incorporating details of inhibitory inputs at different points along the axon. This will later be incorporated into more complete models of the entire visuo-motor system. Furthermore, the network model will be integrated with detailed models of the muscles controlling movement, moving towards a model of the entire organism during early developmental stages. The modelling work will benefit from existing datasets and will maintain a close link to ongoing experiments testing predictions. This project provides a unique opportunity to receive training in mathematical modelling alongside close collaboration with experimentalists using cutting-edge imaging techniques. Experience working on such interdisciplinary projects is highly sought after.

Entry Requirements
You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Mathematics, Physics, Engineering or Neuroscience. Experience in Dynamical Systems, Computational Neuroscience or Mathematical Biology is desirable

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

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• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.