PhD Fellowships

The Bio-imaging lab hosts several PhD students. For example The following PhD projects are currently running in the lab:

  • Unraveling the effect of thyroid hormones on seasonal neuroplasticity in the song control system of adult songbirds - Funded by FWO
    Prior studies mainly focused on the effect of T on SCS plasticity. However, it has been shown that steroid-independent photostimulation can also induce SCS plasticity, but its mechanism remains unclear. One of the proposed alternatives is the mediating effect of THs, as THs play an important role in the regulation of seasonal reproduction and are associated with neurogenesis. Surprisingly, the effect of THs on SCS plasticity has only been studied partially. In addition, it is unknown whether THs mediate SCS plasticity in a direct or an indirect manner.
     
  • Neurobiological predictors and social enhancers of vocal learning - Funded by BOF
    ‚ÄčCultural transmission of vocal behaviours such as human speech or bird song, are greatly influenced by how adults interact with each other and with their young. Even though these behavioural observations are well established, surprisingly, the neurobiological mechanisms via which social enhancement potentiates learning are still poorly understood. Recently, we discovered that future song learning accuracy can be predicted very early in the song learning process based on the structural properties of the auditory areas of the zebra finch brain. Building further on this recent discovery, we aim to (1) identify the neurobiological basis of this prediction; (2) uncover the functional neural circuit that selectively responds to social factors inherent to song learning; and (3) unravel the functional and structural connectivity between the prediction site and remote brain areas. To reach these aims, we will use advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tools that enable to repeatedly quantify the structural architecture and connectivity of the zebra finch brain along the process of vocal learning. We will validate these insights by advanced histology. Moreover, this will be the first study to employ awake functional MRI in juvenile zebra finches to repeatedly probe brain activation patterns in response to specific stimuli presented by a video. To establish brain-behaviour relationship, we will evaluate the MRI outcome relative to several behavioural measures in the same bird.

  • Improved classification of Alzheimer's disease assessed from the slowly propagating waves of BOLD intensity, the Quasi-Periodic patterns, observed in dynamic resting-state fMRI in a AD rat model at rest and upon sensory stimulation - Improved classification of Alzheimer's disease assessed from the slowly propagating waves of BOLD intensity, the Quasi-Periodic patterns, observed in dynamic resting-state fMRI in a AD rat model at rest and upon sensory stimulation - Funded by FWO
    The rsfMRI field has seen a shift from 'static' blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal analysis to time-resolved dynamic analysis. Dynamic rsfMRI (drsfMRI) is a state-of-the-art approach, which has revealed many new insights into the macro-scale organization of functional networks and could already identify short-lasting large scale spatiotemporal patterns of BOLD activity, the 'Quasi-Periodic Patterns' (QPPs) in humans and rats. The QPPs describe recurring spatiotemporal neural events that display anti-correlation between two major brain networks (DMN and TPN), and therefore represent likely contributors to their functional organisation. Therefore, we reason that QPPs could provide new insights into AD network dysfunction and improve disease diagnosis. We postulate the hypothesis that QPPs would help understand the aberrant DMN and TPN Functional Connectivity (FC) observed in Alzheimer's disease, and might serve as a more sensitive biomarker than conventional rsfMRI measures, improving AD classification both in an early pre-plaque stage as late post-plaque stage. In this project, we will use state-of-the-art MRI to investigate: a) how QPPs in a rat model for AD (TgF344), differs from control animals, b) the vascular contribution to QPPs, c) how these QPPs might interact with sensory stimulation processing, d) how the QPPs acquired at rest or sensory stimulation contribute to the DMN and DMN-TPN FC, and how they improve AD classification.