School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

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Mechanisms underlying gut microbiome effects on the gut-brain axis

  • Supervisor: Dr Marina Ezcurra
  • Deadline: 31st December 2017
  • Funding: QMUL (UK/EU students only)

Project Description

Genomic approaches are greatly advancing our knowledge of the human microbiome and its role in health and disease states. It is becoming clear that the composition of the microbiota varies greatly between individuals, contributes to many diseases and plays an active role in human health. These effects include brain disorders – altered communication between the microbiota and the host could be affecting neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, anxiety, and major depressive disorder, and age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Thus, there is a need to study how the microbiota affects the gut-brain axis to identify bacterial interventions that could be used in the treatment of human diseases. 

The complexity of the mammalian gut microbiota and gut-brain axis makes mechanistic studies logistically and financially challenging. Establishing high-throughput molecular studies combined with simple and robust experimental models, that allow the systematic manipulation of multiple variables, will be necessary to identify links between gut microbial pathways and disease states. 

This aim of the project is to identify how the gut microbiota acts to alter neural circuits in the host, resulting in changes in neurophysiology and behavior. Host-microbiome interactions will be studied by combining two well-established model organisms, C. elegans and E. coli. The project will combine a broad range of approaches, including screening of microbial and host genes, behavioral assays, neurophysiology, automated approaches, molecular biology, and genetics. The goal is to identify mechanisms in the gut microbiota and the host that can be used to treat human diseases related to the nervous system. 

As a member of the prestigious Russell Group, Queen Mary University of London is one of UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions. The School of Biological & Chemical Sciences offers state-of-the-art facilities and multidisciplinary research at the highest level. The successful applicant will enter a vibrant research environment, under the supervision of Dr Marina Ezcurra, and be part of the QMUL Doctoral College, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities. 


The studentship is open to UK and EU nationals. It will cover tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16,553 in 2017/18).

Eligibility and Applying

We are looking for an ambitious, independent and forward-thinking student to join our research team. Applicants should have a good honours degree (minimum 2(i) or equivalent) with a strong background in neuroscience, physiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics or a related subject. Laboratory experience and an interest in neuroscience will be advantageous. Informal enquiries can be sent to Dr Marina Ezcurra (). For formal applications, please submit an online application before the stated deadline.

Apply Online


  • Zhao, Y., Gilliat, A.F., Ziehm, M., Turmaine, M., Wang, H., Ezcurra, M., Yang, C., Phillips, G., McBay, D., Zhang, W.B., et al. (2017). Two forms of death in ageing Caenorhabditis elegans. Nat Commun 8, 15458.
  • Dobson A, Ezcurra M, Flanagan C, Summerfield A, Piper ADM, Gems D and Alic N. (2017). Nutritional programming of lifespan: Excessive sugar consumption in early adulthood curtails Drosophila survival by inhibiting dFOXO. Cell Reports. 2017 Jan 10;18(2):299-306.
  • Ezcurra M, Walker DS, Beets I, Swoboda P, Schafer WR. (2016). Neuropeptidergic Signaling and Active Feeding State Inhibit Nociception in Caenorhabditis elegans. J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 16;36(11):3157-69.
  • Riesen M, Feyst I, Rattanavirotkul N, Ezcurra M, Tullet JM, Papatheodorou I, Ziehm M, Au C, Gilliat AF, Hellberg J, Thornton JM, Gems D (2014). MDL-1, a growth- and tumor-suppressor, slows aging and prevents germline hyperplasia and hypertrophy in C. elegans. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Feb;6(2):98-117.
  • Ezcurra M, Reimann F, Gribble FM, Emery E. (2013). Molecular mechanisms of incretin secretion. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2013 Dec;13(6):922-7
  • Aoki R, Yagami T, Sasakura H, Ogura K, Kajihara Y, Ibi M, Miyamae T, Nakamura F, Asakura T, Kanai Y, Misu Y, Iino Y, Ezcurra M, Schafer WR, Mori I, Goshima Y. (2011) A seven-transmembrane receptor that mediates avoidance response to dihydrocaffeic acid, a water-soluble repellent in Caenorhabditis elegans. J Neurosci. 31(46):16603-10.
  • Ezcurra, M., Tanizawa, Y., Swoboda, P., and Schafer, W.R. (2011). Food sensitizes C. elegans avoidance behaviours through acute dopamine signalling. EMBO J 30(6):1110-22
  • Senti, G., Ezcurra, M., Löbner, J., Schafer, W.R., and Swoboda, P. (2009). Worms with a single functional sensory cilium generate proper neuron-specific behavioral output. Genetics 183, 595-605, 591SI-593SI.
  • Suzuki, H., Thiele, T.R., Faumont, S., Ezcurra, M., Lockery, S.R., and Schafer, W.R. (2008). Functional asymmetry in Caenorhabditis elegans taste neurons and its computational role in chemotaxis. Nature 454, 114-117.
  • Wang, Y., Apicella, A., Jr., Lee, S.K., Ezcurra, M., Slone, R.D., Goldmit, M., Schafer, W.R., Shaham, S., Driscoll, M., and Bianchi, L. (2008). A glial DEG/ENaC channel functions with neuronal channel DEG-1 to mediate specific sensory functions in C. elegans. EMBO J 27, 2388-2399.



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