Netherlands: PhD Position for Translational Psychopharmacology at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre

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Job description

Project title: ‘Towards individualized pharmacological treatment of pathological aggression: The role of the 5-HT1Areceptor’

Escalated interpersonal aggression may have a tremendous impact to the victims, with enormous and long-lasting consequences and is a major burden to the society as a whole. Therefore, treatment of interpersonal violence is of outmost importance. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most frequently prescribed to treat aggressive behavior, but there is little understanding of why only a subset of patients respond to these drugs. More specifically, although it is clear that SSRIs have anti-aggressive potential, that there are individual differences in responsivity to SSRIs, and that aggression is related to alterations in 5-HT1A receptor density, it is fully unclear how these three factors are linked. Therefore, it is our aim to elucidate the relationship between aggression (sub)type, somatodendritic/postsynaptic 5-HT1Areceptor densities and SSRI responsivity. We will use a cross-species approach in which we combine the experimental strengths of humans and rats in a highly translational screening protocol. More specifically, besides that both human and rat low and high aggressive individuals will be subjected to impulsive-affective trait analysis, 5-HT1A receptor PET imaging and SSRI responsivity, human studies will be expanded by fMRI analyses to reveal the nature of prefrontal-amygdala top-down and bottom-up control mechanisms. Rat studies, on the other hand, will be expanded by microdialysis to reveal basal and SSRI-evoked extracellular 5-HT responses to properly interpret PET 5-HT1A binding potentials (BPs).  Receptor BPs namely depend on receptor expression and the amount of endogenous ligand competing with the PET radioligand. Our ultimate goal is to reveal whether and how 5-HT1A receptor binding serves as an individual predictor of SSRI response in the treatment of aggression.

Specifically, the PhD-student learns to design and conduct neuro-imaging experiments and behavioral assessments in humans, as well as in rats, analyzes data, collaborates with scientists of other disciplines, participates in international conferences, and prepares manuscripts for publication as well as a thesis at the end of the project.

Requirements

  • Masters degree in medicine, or cognitive neuroscience, (medical) biology, or in a related field
  • Affinity with biological psychiatry, behavioural pharmacology and/or behavioural neuroscience
  • You have affinity to work with patients as well as rodents, and it is an advantage to have the certificate “Artikel 9 Wet op de Dierproeven”
  • We also find it important that you are able to function well both independently and in a multidisciplinary team, and that you willing to collaborate with and interact between different research groups

Conditions of employment

  • Temporary, 1 year, after a positive evaluation the contract will be extended by 3 years
  • 36 hour per week
  • Scale 10A: max € 38600 gross per year at full employment (incl. vacation bonus and end of year payments)

Organisation

Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (RUN MC)

Department

The Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour is a highly dynamic institute with a collaborative atmosphere focusing on fundamental and applied neuroscience research at top level. Translational research, the basis of this project proposal, is highly stimulated. For further information, please, visit the following websites: Radboud University Nijmegen (www.ru.nl); Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour (www.ru.nl/donders) Department of Cognitive Neurosciences (www.umcn.nl/scientist/afdelingen/cns/molecular_neurobiology).

This project is a collaboration of:
1) the group of Robbert-Jan Verkes with the objective to understand the neurobiological impairments in patients with disorders in impulse- and/or aggression control
2) the group of Judith Homberg which performs research on serotonin-mediated individual differences in rodent behaviour relevant for health and psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, and drug addiction.

Furhtermore the following investigators will be involved:
3) Mark Rijpkema, Dept Nuclear Medicine, who will coordinate the PET imaging in patients and rodents.
4) Erno Hermans, Donder Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, who will supervise the MRI neuroimaging in patients.
5) Karin Roelofs, Dept Experimental Psychopathology at the Behavioural Science Institute, who will supervise the neurocognitive tests in patients.

Additional information

For further information please contact:
Dr. Robbert Jan Verkes, R.Verkes@psy.umcn.nl, tel: +31 (0) 24 3613490 or
Dr. Judith Homberg, J.Homberg@cns.umcn.nl, tel: +31 (0) 24 3610906

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