Available positions

(A2) Neurobiology

The Impact of Early Social Adversity on Social and Emotional Competence in Later Life and the Underlying Neurobiological Mechanisms

This project studies consequences of early social adversity (ESA) on social competence and emotional behaviour throughout lifetime in rats. Longitudinal studies in rats allow to systematically examine (i) the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of effects of ESA and (ii) its mediators such as ESA type, timing, intensity, and gender. The planned PhD projects will obtain a causal mechanistic understanding of the molecular underpinnings of the pathological behavioural consequences of ESA. Different techniques from longitudinal behavioural analysis in the social and emotional domains to neuroanatomical techniques, and the use of virus-mediated gene transfer and novel transgenic rat models will be applied.

Principal Investigators: R. Spanagel, A.C. Hansson

PhD Student: Akseli Surakka

(A4) Resilience Factors

Resilience Factors in the Mannheim Study of Children at Risk

ACE have been linked to a broad range of psychiatric disorders from both the externalizing and the internalizing spectrum. So far, however, it is unclear why some individuals develop a disorder while others continue to demonstrate psychobiological allostasis. In this context, it has been suggested that protective factors may play an important role in counteracting ACE. The planned doctoral projects will engage in this topic by elucidating resilience from a multilevel perspective, i.e., taking (social) environmental, genetic, personality, hormonal, and neural factors into account.

Principal Investigators: T. Banaschewski, N. Holz

PhD Student: Eline Kraaijenvanger

(B2) Social Environment

ACE and Stress Sensitivity: the Modulatory Role of the Social Environment 

ACE have enduring effects on human stress regulatory circuits and promotes alterations in stress sensitivity and emotion regulation in later life. The likelihood of the sensitized neural system to (de)compensate is thereby shaped by adverse and protective social influences in everyday life, but the examination is methodologically challenging. The planned doctoral projects will tackle this problem and interrogate data on prior ACE, alterations in stress sensitivity and emotion regulation and real-life social environmental exposures to identify the intermediate neural mechanisms.

Principal Investigators: H. Tost, A. Meyer-Lindenberg

PhD Student: Oksana Berhe

(B5) Addiction

Stress sensitivity, emotion processing and cue-reactivity in substance-related disorders: the influence of ACE

ACE are related to the development of SUD and behavioural addictions. Further knowledge on the interaction of behavioural, neural and physiological risk factors would be helpful for treatment and prevention of addictive disorders. The suggested doctoral projects will examine stress sensitivity, emotion processing and cue-reactivity using fMRI in alcohol use disorder (AUD) with and without ACE.

Principal Investigators: F. Kiefer, S. Vollstädt-Klein

PhD Student: Sarah Gerhardt

(C3) Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

ACE and Biological and Psychobiological Markers of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

ACE take place during a critical phase for the immune system and the intestinal microbiota and may therefore contribute to the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) later on in life. Altered cognitive processing such as stronger emotional responding as well as the formation of a dysfunctional illness-identity have been discussed but hardly examined in relation to ACE and IBD. To do so, the planned doctoral projects will examine alterations in disease-relevant biological systems (mucosal immune system, intestinal microbiota) and psychobiological processes in the context of ACE and evaluate the differential effects of psychosocial interventions on objective and subjective markers of IBD.

Principal Investigators: S. Lis, W. Reindl

PhD Student: Konstantina Atanasova

(C4) Back Pain

The Impact of Early Social Adversity on the Development of Myofascial Low Back Pain – an Animal Experimental Study

Stress is known to induce or enhance chronic low-back pain. Recent animal experiments indicate that stress itself is able to sensitize nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord. The planned doctoral projects will investigate and compare the impact of ESA and stress on the sensitization process of these neurons in an animal model of myofascial low back pain. Furthermore, experimental interventions will be performed to neutralise or reduce the impact of ESA and stress on the sensitization process of spinal cord dorsal horn neurons.

Principal Investigators: R.-D. Treede, R. Spanagel

PhD Student: Sathish Kumar Singaravelu

Please state in your letter which project(s) you are interested in



Doctoral researcher positions for the next cycle starting from April 2021 



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