PhD Position: The Effects of Pregnancy on the Human Brain

Updated: 3 months ago
Job Type: Temporary
Deadline: 19 Jun 2022

We offer a PhD position at the Amsterdam UMC (location AMC) on the ERC-funded research project ‘Pregnancy and the Human Brain: A Window of Neuroplasticity’.

In this longitudinal neuroimaging project, we will investigate how pregnancy and motherhood change the human brain and how these neural changes relate to peripartum adaptive and maladaptive processes. Pregnancy and the postpartum period represent highly sensitive periods for both mother and infant, involving extreme hormonal surges that orchestrate a myriad of complex biological adaptations. Converging evidence from animal studies shows that pregnancy hormones trigger neural and behavioral changes in mammals that are evident across the lifespan.

In a previous study, we have discovered that pregnancy also renders pronounced and long-lasting changes in human brain structure (see e.g. https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4458 ), pointing to the existence of a dramatic pregnancy-related neuroplasticity. However, very little is known on the effects of this extreme endocrine event and life transition on the human brain, and we are at the brink of charting this new area of research.

In this project, we aim to gather key insights into the changes occurring in the human brain during gestation and postpartum, the mechanisms underlying these changes and their functional implications, for instance with respect to a mother’s mental health (e.g. the development of peripartum depression), maternal caregiving and maternal cognition. We will investigate this by means of a pre-conception prospective cohort study that combines various neuroimaging approaches with psychopedagogic and biomedical measures. See www.hoekzemalab.nl for some general information about our research. 

The PhD student will take part in setting up and running this project in the Hoekzema Lab, supervised by Dr. Elseline Hoekzema and two postdoctoral researchers in the team. In addition, the PhD student will start analyzing and publishing early on in their PhD trajectory, based on a novel longitudinal dataset on this topic involving neuroimaging, physiological, endocrine and behavioral data that has just been completed. 


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