A Systems Biology Investigation of the balance between neural excitation and inhibition

Department/School: Biomedical Engineering, School of Biological Sciences

Supervisor: Professor Ying Zheng

Co-supervisor: Professor Ingo Bojak

Application Deadline: Applications accepted all year round

Funding Availability: Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Duration: 36 months


This project will combine electrophysiological experiments and mathematical modelling approach to investigate the balance and interaction between neural excitation and inhibition at neural population level. Recent research at cellular level demonstrated that neurons receive excitatory and inhibitory signals which were co-tuned under a range of conditions. Using mathematical models, we showed that neural signals recorded by a micro-electrode may be modelled by two components reflecting neural excitation and inhibition similar to those measured at cellular level. This work provided a theoretical framework for developing mathematical algorithms for the interpretation of field potential measurements into components of excitation and inhibition.

This project aims to use pharmacological intervention to alter the proportional balance between neural excitation and inhibition, while measuring the time courses of field potentials using multi-channel micro-electrodes under various stimulation conditions. Based on experimental evidence, we will validate and extend existing mathematical models of neural activity across cortical depth. The long term objective of this project is to establish mathematical models of scalp EEG data in order to provide inferences about the underlying components of neural excitation and inhibition. The outcome of the project is relevant to enhancing our understanding of not only normal brain functions, but also debilitating neurological disorders such as epilepsy, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia in which the balance between neural excitation and inhibition is believed to be disrupted.

We are looking for highly motivated people from either a Science/Engineering or a life science/medical background wishing to pursue a PhD in systems biology or computational neuroscience. This project will provide excellent training in conducting electrophysiological experiments and in mathematical modelling techniques.  

University of Reading

The University of Reading is one of the UK’s 20 most research-intensive universities (Research Excellence Framework, 2014). Our achievements include the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement (1989) and the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education (1998, 2006 and 2009).

This project will take place in the Biomedical Engineering Section, School of Biological Sciences, which has a strong reputation for its innovative research in computer science, cybernetics, and electronic engineering. Recent major investments have further strengthened the neuroscience activities, with two new professors, three new lecturers and the creation of a Brain Embodiment Lab. This work will be carried out in close collaboration with the School of Pharmacy.


Applicants should have a bachelors (at least 2.1 or equivalent) or master's degree in Science, Engineering, Medicine or a strongly related discipline. Strong neuroscience and/or systems engineering skills are preferable. Experience in electrophysiology and/or computer programming are desirable.

How to apply

Please submit an application for a PhD (initial registration) in Cybernetics (Biological Sciences) to the University using the link below.


In the online application system, there is a section for “Research proposal” and a box that says “If you have already been in contact with a potential supervisor, please tell us who” – in this box, please enter “Ying Zheng”.

Funding notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.

Further enquiries

For further information about this PhD opportunity, please contact:

Professor Ying Zheng, tel: +44 (0)118 378 7635, ying.zheng@reading.ac.uk

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