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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Friday, 21 July 2023
Academic background
Health Sciences, Sciences
Host campus
Associate Professor Stephen Bunn


You will join a research project designed to challenge, and potentially overturn, the long-held understanding of the mechanism controlling prolactin secretion from the pituitary. Elevated prolactin levels are critical for lactation but mechanisms responsible for its increased secretion at this time are poorly understood. In non-lactating conditions prolactin secretion is held in check by a negative feedback pathway mediated by hypothalamic dopaminergic neurons. It is currently believed that during lactation these neurons become insensitive to this feedback thus allowing prolactin levels to rise. We have published evidence that this model is unlikely to be correct in that the neurons remain prolactin-responsive during lactation. Surprisingly, however, they appear to undergo a change in phenotype and switch from releasing dopamine to releasing the opioid peptide enkephalin. We will now use a transgenic rat, selectively expressing Cre-recombinase in catecholaminergic neurons, in combination with a Cre-dependent Ca2+-sensor to examine this apparent neuronal plasticity and to determine the mechanism involved.

Yip SH, Gustafson P, Williams E, Romano N, Martin AO, Grattan DR, Bunn SJ. Role of prolactin in the pregnancy-induced expression of enkephalin in tuberoinfindibular dopamine neurons. Cell Reports 26, 1787-99 2019.

Romano, N., Yip, S. H., Hodson, D. J., Guillou, A., Parnaudeau, S., Kirk, S., Tronche, F., Bonnefont, X., Le Tissier, P., Bunn, S. J., Grattan, D. R., Mollard, P., Martin, A. O. Plasticity of hypothalamic dopamine neurons during lactation results in dissociation of electrical activity and release. J Neurosci 33, 4424-4433, 2013.

Why you should study with us

The Department of Anatomy provides:

  • Supervision by staff who are nationally and internationally recognised in their fields of research.
  • PhD supervisory committees that will provide assistance to both you and your supervisor during your candidature.
  • Provision of appropriate research and study spaces.
  • Access to state-of-the-art research equipment and support services.
  • Provision of computing resources and support.
  • Project costs.
  • A vibrant, active postgraduate student group.
  • Access to NZ$5,000 towards conference travel.


Applicants will have completed a degree with a research component or have equivalent research experience. The New Zealand / United Kingdom degree equivalent is an honours degree, or master's, in a relevant discipline. You will need to have completed these to a first class or distinction standard.

Applications will only be accepted by email to the following address:

Applications must include:

  • The PhD project for which you wish to apply
  • A copy of your CV
  • A copy of your academic transcript
  • A copy of your research dissertation or thesis
  • Written statement (300–500 words) outlining why this project interests you
  • The names of two academic referees (one of whom should be your most recent supervisor)
  • Evidence of English language ability (for non-native English speakers)

As part of the final selection procedure, prospective candidates may be asked to attend an interview (via video conference).


The University of Otago and the Department of Anatomy offer scholarships to suitably qualified students. These will normally provide a tuition fee waiver (full-time fees in 2019 are NZ$9,951 per annum) and provide a stipend of NZ$27,000 per annum for up to 36 months.

To be eligible for consideration for a scholarship, candidates will normally have completed their degree with research component, or equivalent, to the level of a New Zealand A- (GPA of 7 or above) or better.


Department of Anatomy

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