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PhD Studentship: Neural Code for Action Organisation - Linking Neural Oscillations to Mental Representations

University of Birmingham - School of Psychology

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 23rd November 2022
Closes: 20th January 2023

The ability to organise one's body for action without having to think about it is taken for granted, whether it is tying your shoelaces, typing an email on a computer keyboard, or performing a new dance routine. How does the brain prepare the order and timing of movements in a sequence for fluent and accurate performance? Motor planning has been long recognised as a key element of skilled motor control and its dysfunction has been linked to poorly understood developmental coordination disorders, however the covert organisation of movements prior to execution has remained elusive. While the planning of single movements in the primate brain has been well characterised over the last two decades, understanding how sequences of movement are prepared and controlled remains highly debated, despite a recent surge in interest in this field. Specifically, it unclear whether planning involves a process where each item in the sequence is retrieved and ordered in parallel, or alternatively, whether planning involves rehearsing or replaying the upcoming items serially. Recently we have developed tools to decode the covert content related to sequence planning from behaviour and non-invasively recorded brain patterns (MEG, EEG and fMRI) not detectable at the periphery and scrutinise its relation to subsequent performance. Despite these promising advances, a direct link to the underlying regional neural dynamics that give rise to action organisation remains unknown.

The current PhD project will aim to close this gap by employing state-of-the-art neuroimaging technology (optically pumped magnetometers; OPM-MEG) which allows us to record the neural dynamics in humans from cortical and subcortical regions with a higher than previously signal-to-noise ratio, and combine it with non-invasive transcranial brain stimulation. OPM-MEG. This approach will help us to reveal 1) what is represented in recorded brain activity in the hundreds of milliseconds prior to movement onset, 2) how that information is represented in those regions of interest by neural oscillations and 3) whether inhibiting or boosting neural oscillations of interest will improve action planning and coordination. The results will have implications for the fundamental understanding of motor control and the relationship between the frequency spectra of the neural signal and informational processing in the human brain. Further, it will have relevance to clinical rehabilitation of poorly understood developmental and acquired action coordination disorders.

The project will be supervised by Dr Katja Kornysheva, Prof Ole Jensen and Dr Andrew Quinn.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Programming using Matlab/Python
  • Experimental paradigm development; Behavioural tasks: sequence learning (finger force recordings and hand-writing/drawing trajectories) tasks
  • Neuroimaging: state-of-the-art MEG/OPM-MEG recordings
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and/or transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)

Important Note:
Before submitting an application to the University of Birmingham interested candidates are encouraged to send the following documents to Dr Katja Kornysheva (k.kornysheva@bham.ac.uk) with the subject "MIBTP studentship". Applicants with the most competitive applications will be supported to submit an application to the University of Birmingham.

1- CV

2- Personal Statement

3- Transcript of grades

4- Reference letter

For more information please visit:

https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/mibtp/pgstudy/phd_opportunities/

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/mibtp/index.aspx

Funding

MIBTP is a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) between the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, Aston University and Harper Adams. Call open to home, European and international students (NOTE: International students will still have to pay for their own visas and a healthcare surcharge which is approximately £2500).

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