NERVSPAN - MSCA European Doctoral Network

Molecular plasticity of neurons during C. elegans lifespan

Currently – Open positions for three PhD students

The teams of Meital OREN-SUISSA, (Rehovot, Israel), Thomas BOULIN (Lyon, France) and Mario DE BONO (Vienna, Austria) are currently each recruiting one PhD candidate.

We welcome applications from eligible candidates who hold a Master's degree (or equivalent) in biology, have excellent analytical and communication skills, and are passionate about research. See below for more details about the application process.

Note: To be compatible with both the MSCA mobility rules and local eligibility rules, applicants to the De Bono Group must have received an offer from or have been admitted to the ISTA Graduate School to be considered for this position. Please contact the PI before submission for more details.

Applications will be considered until the positions are filled.

Our network will develop an integrative approach to study various aspects of neuronal physiology throughout the lifespan of males and hermaphrodite worms.

Over their development and ageing, neurons undergo dramatic morphological changes, including axonal growth, dendritogenesis, synaptogenesis, and circuit remodelling, while maintaining their identity and function. As cellular and environmental contexts vary over time in a living organism, individual cell identity and functionality need to be preserved through plasticity of intracellular molecular networks.

We will look at specific neurons at several junctures of the lifespan of C. elegans to capture the full range of cellular states that stay within the boundaries of the functional neuron's identity versus cellular states associated with its dysfunction.

As a doctoral candidate within the NERVSPAN network, you will have the opportunity to work with leading academics and industrial partners from across Europe, gaining valuable experience in international collaboration and cutting-edge research. You will also benefit from a comprehensive training program that includes workshops, courses, and secondments, all aimed at enhancing your research and professional skills.

The NERVSPAN (2023-2028) doctoral network is funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Union's reference programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training.

What we provide

The NERVSPAN program will provide state-of-the-art training to 11 young researchers examining neuronal development and plasticity over the entire lifespan of the nematode C. elegans while also investigating the sex specific aspects of neuronal identity and function.

NERVSPAN will train 11 Doctoral Students at 7 world-renowned academic institutions and 2 companies. The nature of the programme will provide the enrolled students with strong interdisciplinary training (including, but not limited to: molecular biology, bioinformatics, high resolution microscopy, proteomics, and transcriptome profiling). The strong connections between individual research projects will generate synergies between students and participating laboratories.

Training through Research

NERVSPAN students will receive a continuous multidisciplinary research training including local training and network-wide workshops.


NERVSPAN secondments will allow the students to be exposed to international and interdisciplinary research environments and cultures in two research groups.

Scientific Communication and Career Planning

Oral and written presentations skills are crucial for the successful career development of PhD students. Career planning workshops will cover topics such as academic mobility, work/life balance, and trans-sectoral opportunities.

Statistical Tools for Big Data in Biology

Quantitative biology will be a central part of the NERVSPAN training, both for transcriptomic analyses and state-of-the-art light imaging.

Denis DUPUY, Bordeaux (France)

Neuron-specific splicing regulation analysis through full-length transcriptomic approaches

My team uses a combination of transcriptomics, genetics and bioinformatic approaches to analyse the molecular basis of cell differentiation in C. elegans, with a special emphasis on post-ranscriptional regulation by alternative splicing.

Thomas BOULIN, Lyon (France)

Robustness of neuronal excitability and function across gender and lifespan

We want to understand how cellular physiology is controled by basic molecular and cellular pathways regulating the biology of potassium-selective ion channels.

Mike BOXEM, Utrecht (Netherlands)

Polarization and functional specialization of cells

My team uses a combination of systems biology approaches, systematic experimental manipulation, and live-cell imaging in C. elegans to study how cells polarize, specialize, and become organized into functional tissues.

Mario DE BONO, Vienna (Austria)

The proteome of gap junctions

The De Bono Group seeks to discover and then dissect basic molecular mechanisms that underpin the functions of neurons and neural circuits. Neurons are highly specialized cells and many fundamental questions about their organization, function and plasticity remain unaddressed.

Mirko FRANCESCONI, Lyon (France)

Understanding the impact of neuronal intergenerational perception in C. elegans

We study how information about ancestral environment is transmitted and interpreted to generate lifelong phenotypes using a combination of transcriptomics, genetics and quantitative phenotyping.

Sophie JARRIAULT, Strasbourg (France)

Cellular plasticity: how to make new neurons by reprogramming

In the Jarriault team, we explore and challenge basic dogmas asking how cells can change their identity. We have established the first model allowing to follow, in vivo, in live animals, a direct cellular reprogramming event at the single cell level: a rectal cell that undergoes a mid-life crisis and reprograms into a motor-neuron! Join us to elucidate the GRNs and cellular transitions involved!

Martin HARTERINK, Utrecht (Netherland)

Specification of dendrite identity

My team studies the molecular and cellular machineries that underly neuron development. In this project we will explore the mechanisms that make dendrites different from the axon.

Patrick LAURENT, Brussels (Belgium)

Local organisation of synaptic proteome

Our work is a deep dive into the cell biology of neuron. In this project we ask how proteins floating in the cytoplasm get to the right location and once there, how they shift location in response to neuronal activity. Finally, we will ask how protein mobility can modify neuronal function?

Meital OREN-SUISSA, Rehovot (Israel)

The development of sex-specific neuronal features

Despite five decades of research that established a link between genes, circuits, and behavior, we are still far from understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that give rise to sexually dimorphic nervous systems. We hypothesize that sex-specific differential gene expression, as determined by the genetic sex, dictates the alternative synaptic choices made by dimorphic neurons and ultimately leads to dimorphic circuits and behaviors.

David WEINKOVE, Durham (United-Kingdom)

Measuring decline of neuronal function with age to develop new therapies for age-related disease

In this project, you will work with the R&D team at Magnitude Biosciences to develop new automated behavioural assays that will both allow new discoveries to be made in cellular neurobiology and provide a useful platform for our industrial clients to discovery new therapies.

Apply for a PhD at NERVSPAN

We welcome applications from candidates who hold a Master's degree (or equivalent) in biology, have excellent analytical and communication skills, and are passionate about research.
The communication and teaching language throughout NERVSPAN is English.

    Eligibility criteria

  • Candidates can be of any nationality
  • Candidates must hold a Master Degree or equivalent
  • Candidates must comply with MSCA mobility rules, i.e., must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the recruiting organisation for more than 12 months in the 36 months immediately before their recruitment date

To apply, please send your application package to the project's Principal Investigator (PI) and (Network Coordinator).
Applications to more than one project are possible.

    Application package

  • Personal statement/motivation letter (up to 2 pages) about applicant's experience and interests.
  • A complete CV (personal details, academic/education history, research experience, experimental skills, publications, etc.)
  • If available: a Proficiency of English language skills corresponding to at least level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
  • Names and contact information of two qualified references.


    The selection procedure will consist of the following steps:
  • Eligibility check: A Recruitment Committee will check each application is complete and that applicants fulfil the eligibility criteria.
  • Remote Evaluation: each eligible application will be evaluated and best candidates selected.
  • Online interviews: The short-listed candidates will be interviewed by a Selection Committee that will include the recruiting PIs plus one additional consortium member.
  • Candidates, positively evaluated but not initially called for interviews, will be put on a reserve list.
  • Notification of the selection outcomes: Short-listed candidates will be informed about the outcome, and the one selected will be put in touch with the HR Department of the hosting institution to initiate the hiring procedure.