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Rosetrees Trust PhD: Neonatal Neurogenetic Biomarkers of Dyslexia Risk

Dept. of Psychology

Applications are invited for a 3-year Rosetrees PhD studentship on neonatal neural and genetic biomarkers of dyslexia risk. The studentship will start in October 2017 at the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. The successful candidate will conduct research under the supervision of Dr Victoria Leong ( and Prof Zoe Kourtzi, in collaboration with Dr Topun Austin.

Dyslexia is a congenital, lifelong disability in language learning that affects up to 10% of individuals worldwide. Genetic models suggest that the dyslexic brain may be 'mis-wired' during fetal development as a result of faulty axonal guidance mechanisms. Mis-wiring disrupts neuronal oscillatory mechanisms in the auditory cortex that support neural processing of speech, leading to inaccurate speech sound representations that map poorly to letter symbols during reading.

We have previously found that neonates with a high (familial) genetic risk for dyslexia show poorer neural oscillatory processing of speech sounds at birth. We have further identified a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in one dyslexia susceptibility gene, ROBO1, that may significantly predict individual differences in the neonatal neural response to speech. The PhD project builds on these findings to assess the long-term developmental outcomes of neonates with low-risk vs high-risk genetic and neural profiles, in relation to the early home language environment. The specific aims of the research project are to:

(1) Understand how ROBO1 (and other dyslexia susceptibility) genotypes interact with the language environment to affect language outcomes in young infants;

(2) Identify key neural or environmental protective factors that confer resilience to high-risk infants who show normative language development despite their high-risk status;

The PhD candidate will conduct a longitudinal assessment of the development trajectory of 50 high-risk and 50 low-risk neonates over their first 1.5 years of life. Each neonate will be assessed at birth, 6, 12 and 18 months to map their brain development and language development in relation to their risk genotype and the quality of their home language environment.

Eligibility and Funding:

Candidates should have a first or upper second class degree in neuroscience, psychology or molecular biology/genetics and meet the University of Cambridge entrance requirements - see:

Prior experience of working with infants and/or children in experimental settings, and a good understanding of developmental psychology (in particular, early language development) is essential. Experience and knowledge of EEG acquisition and analysis methods would be highly desirable. The successful candidate should also possess good social and communication skills, in order to interact sensitively with expectant/postpartum mothers and their newborn infants.

Deadline 5 April 2017

For more information see