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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Genetics of hypomania and impulse control; delineating causal relations

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

Prof Brennan is Director of Research for SBBS, Professor of Molecular Genetics, and Member of the Royal Society Industry Research Fellows’ College. Prof Brennan's group uses zebrafish as a model to explore the genetics and cell biology of behaviour with a focus on cognition and mental health. The group currently consists of 2PDRA, 3PhD students and a research technician with additional dedicated technical support for fish breeding and maintenance. Dr Malachini is an expert in human behavioural genetics with a focus on mental health and education. Her group consists of 3 PhD students.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The project will provide training in human genetic analysis and all aspects of using zebrafish as a developmental, behavioural and genetic model species. The student will conduct bioinformatic analysis of human gene association datasets, and human and zebrafish gene expression datasets, learn gene-editing techniques (CRISPR), and developmental, cell biological and behavioural analysis in zebrafish (e.g. immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridisation)

Project description

This project examines the genetic association between hypomania/mania and impulsivity. Hypomania and mania are key components of bipolar disorder (BPD), a complex disorder that is the second most prevalent mental health disorder worldwide (Krahn, 2011). Impulsivity is also a behavioural trait associated with bipolar disorder. Both hypomania and impulsivity are heritable characteristics and twin studies suggest that genetic factors contribute to the association between hypomania and conditions characterized by a lack of impulse control (e.g., ADHD, Hosang, 2019). Although hypomania/mania and impulsivity may be the result of genetic pleitropy (the contribution of individual genetic variants to two or more apparently unrelated traits), we hypothesise a causal genetic association between hypomania/ mania and impulsivity, in that greater genetic liability towards impulsivity, would result in greater liability towards hypomania. We use genetic analysis of existing human datasets to test this hypothesis and cell biological and behavioural analysis in animal models to explore the neurobiology of impulse control. First, we will conduct a genome wide association analysis of existing UK Biobank data to estimate the genetic corelation between the two phenotypes. We then conduct Mendelian Randomisation using summary statistics from published data and our Biobank study to determine the direction of causation.  Summary statistics  will be used to identify candidate genes that can be tested for causal effects on behaviour and analysis of cell biological processes using zebrafish as a model system.  The result of our work has the potential to inform pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment of bipolar disorder.


This studentship is open to Mexican students applying for CONACyT funding. CONACyT will provide a contribution towards your tuition fees each year and Queen Mary will waive the remaining fee. CONACyT will pay a stipend towards living costs to its scholars.

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project such as Genetics, Biology, Psychology, Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential.

Applicants must have experience in conducting behavioural and / or cell biological analysis in animal models, and must have a strong motivation to develop expertise in working with zebrafish. Knowledge of statistical analysis is required. Experience in analysis of genetic datasets, developing experimental designs and / or writing scientific publications is desireable, but not essential.

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CONACyT scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CONACyT for the scholarship as per their requirements and deadlines, with the support of the project supervisor.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CONACyT can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


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