When might the brain go wrong: the role of immune cells at critical time-points during development

Research Opportunity
PhD students, Masters by Research, Master of Biomedical Science
Department / Centre
Psychiatry
Location
Royal Melbourne Hospital
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
Professor Christos Pantelis cpant@unimelb.edu.au
Co-supervisor Email Number Webpage
Dr Liliana Laskaris lily.laskaris@unimelb.edu.au 0447622391

Summary Multiple neuropsychiatric disorders from autism to depression and schizophrenia are characterised by altered brain connectivity and synaptic functioning. Key players in the development of synaptic connections are the brain’s immune cells, the microglia. The aim of this project is to utilise a mouse model to identify specific neurodevelopmental stages when the brain is most vulnerable to microglial activity.

Project Details

The Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre (MNC) is undertaking leading research in neuropsychiatric disorders, with an emphasis on longitudinal brain imaging studies to identify neurobiological risk and resilience markers of illness in humans. Clinical research has revealed that altered connectivity underlies many neuropsychiatric disorders from depression to autism and schizophrenia. This finding directly implicates the brain’s synapses, which are the main method by which neurons communicate with each other and supporting glial cells. Key players in the development of synaptic connections are the brain’s immune cells, the microglia. Microglia are responsible for protecting the brain against invading pathogens but also crucially for pruning dysfunctional or under-utilised synapses during development and beyond. Notably, microglial dysfunction is implicated in many neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. It is therefore hypothesised that aberrant microglial pruning during development is having diverse effects on synapse formation and functioning that lead to the connectivity deficits identified in these disorders. However, to date the effect of microglial activity on the normal developing brain has not been extensively explored with reference to specific neurodevelopmental stages.

The aim of this project is to utilise a mouse model to identify specific neurodevelopmental stages when the brain is most vulnerable to microglial activity. We will investigate microglial function across stages of mouse development from childadolescent and through to adulthood, particularly focusing on their effect on brain synapses. The project will focus on identifying subtle shifts in microglial function and their relationship with neurons and synapses in the brain. The student will undertake a range of molecular techniques such as immuno-histochemistry and ELISA to visualise and assess the function of microglial cells and synapses at various stages of the developing brain. Given that microglia are implicated in many neuropsychiatric disorders, categorising microglial activity at every stage of development, may be a critical first step in identifying when pharmacological and other treatment will have the greatest impact.



Faculty Research Themes

Neuroscience

School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry



Research Opportunities

PhD students, Masters by Research, Master of Biomedical Science
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

Department / Centre

Psychiatry

Research Node

Royal Melbourne Hospital

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