PhD candidate in structural and functional plasticity of the nervous system

Faculty of Science – Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

Publication date
7 May 2018
Level of education
Master's degree
Salary indication
€2,222 to €2,840 gross per month
Closing date
4 June 2018
38 hours per week
Vacancy number

The Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) is one of the largest institutes of the Faculty of Science. Its approximately 240 scientists and staff members work in 16 research groups that perform excellent research centered on three themes:

  1. Cell & Sytems Biology;
  2. Neurosciences, and
  3. Molecular Life Sciences.

The research group Structural and Functional Plasticity of the Nervous System aims to understand how plasticity of the brain is regulated and ‘programmed’ for life. We focus on neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity and behavior, and on their (molecular) regulation by (early) stress, inflammation, (early) nutrition and epigenetics. Plasticity is studied in relation to cognition and disorders like depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. We focus among others on the perinatal period, by studying mechanisms underlying early stress and (emotional) memory, synaptic (dys)function and Alzheimer etiology, and by studying effects of early stress and nutrition on programming of brain structure, function, Alzheimer’s disease, epigeneticsand neuro-inflammation.  We have a PhD position, subsidized by Alzheimer Nederland.

Project description

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is characterized by neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs, aggregates of hyporphosphorylated tau) and amyloid (Aß) containing plaques in the brain. Aß and tau play central roles in AD-related cognitive decline. Some individuals however, maintain intact memory despite the presence of Aß in the brain, suggesting that neurons can employ mechanisms that protect them against the detrimental effects of Aß. Recent epidemiological studies suggest that also environmental factors influence AD incidence, one of them being education. This has led to the hypothesis that an active brain is capable of building a ‘cognitive reserve’ that renders the brain resistant against the impact of age-related brain changes and AD-related neuropathology and cognitive decline. This raises the question which environmental factors determine the sensitivity to develop (or delay) AD pathology.

The early postnatal period - when the brain is still developing - has been shown to be a critical time window for determining cognitive development over life. In particular, stressful experiences during this period and low levels of maternal care e.g. accelerate later cognitive decline, while reducing stress in the early postnatal period and enhancing maternal care delay cognitive decline. The early postnatal period is also a critical window for the development of AD pathology. We have shown before that fragmented maternal care during the early postnatal period reduced cognitive performance in middle-aged APP transgenic mice. Conversely, enhancing maternal care during the early life period prevented later cognitive deficits in APP transgenic mice. In this project we will investigate how variations in maternal care can accelerate or delay the onset and severity of AD pathology and cognitive decline. To further investigate the underlying mechanisms, we focus on excitatory synapses and the glucocorticoid receptor in the brain. We hypothesize that variations in maternal care (during the early postnatal period) lastingly impact synaptic plasticity processes by changing stress responsivity and the glutamate receptor composition at synapses, and that this determines the sensitivity to develop AD pathology and AD-related cognitive decline.


  • a Master’s degree in the fields of Brain and/or (Cognitive) Neurosciences;
  • proven interest in Alzheimers’s Disease, and/or the (synaptic) basis of hippocampal function and behaviour in health and disease;
  • illingness to work in a multidisciplinary environment.

Interest in imaging, electrohysiological and behavioural approaches will be considered as an advantage.

Further information

For more information, please contact:


The appointment will be on a temporary basis for a period of 4 years (initial appointment will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it can be extended to a total duration of 4 years) and should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. You are also expected to assist in teaching of undergraduates.

Based on a full-time appointment (38 hours per week) the gross monthly salary will range from €2,222 in the first year to €2,840 in the last year. The Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities is applicable.

Job application

The UvA is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees. We value a spirit of enquiry and endurance, provide the space to keep asking questions and cherish a diverse atmosphere of curiosity and creativity.

Due to limitations in recruitment budget we will only consider candidates that are currently in Europe. Please do not respond if you are not in this continent.

You may submit your application to the link below.

Your application must include a curriculum vitae including contact addresses of 2 academic references and a  letter of motivation. Please combine these documents in one single attachment and also mention the months (not just years) in your CV when referring to your education and work experience.

Applications will be accepted until 4 June 2018. #LI-DNP

No agencies please

Published by  University of Amsterdam