INSTITUTION: Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences (HIIET PAS)

CITY: Wrocław

POSITION: PhD student in a research project of the National Science Center

SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINE: medicine or biological or medical sciences

DATE OF ANNOUNCEMENT: November 30, 2023

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION OF DOCUMENTS: December 30, 2023

COMPETITION RESULT DATE: January 31, 2024

PREFERRED START DATE OF WORK ON THE PROJECT: February 1, 2024

LINK TO THE WDS IPAS WEBSITE: http://wsdipan.intibs.pl

LINK TO HIIET PAS WEBSITE: www.hirszfeld.pl

KEYWORDS: psychotic disorders, schizophrenia, psychotic-like experiences, stress, FKBP5

gene, epigenetic, experience sampling methodology

The Wrocław Doctoral School of Institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences (hereinafter: "Doctoral School") announces a special recruitment for a doctoral student and a scholarship holder in the research project entitled "Relevance of epigenetic regulation of the FKBP5 gene in moderating the association between psychosocial stress and psychotic-like experiences – an experience sampling method study" (hereinafter: "Research Project"), commissioned by the National Science Center (grant no. 2021/41/B/HS6/02323) at the Laboratory of Immunogenetics and Tissue Immunology, Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy Polish Academy of Sciences in Wrocław.

We offer work in a specialized research laboratory that allows you to obtain a doctorate in biological or medical sciences.

Description of the Research Project

The research and doctoral thesis will be carried out as part of the Research Project: "Relevance of epigenetic regulation of the FKBP5 gene in moderating the association between psychosocial stress and psychotic-like experiences – an experience sampling method study", commissioned by the National Science Center (grant no. 2021/41/B/HS6/02323).

A summary of the Research Project: 

Psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) are highly prevalent and occur in 5 – 8% of the general population. They include hallucination-like and delusion-like experiences that do not meet widely accepted diagnostic criteria of mental disorders. However, it is widely accepted that they serve as a risk factor for overt psychotic disorders. The exact mechanisms contributing to the development of PLEs and psychotic disorders remain unclear. Nevertheless, recent studies indicate that approaching more complex models may better explain the mechanisms underlying psychotic disorders than those assuming the effects of single insults.

It has been found that various categories of psychosocial stressors increase a risk of PLEs. However, experiencing psychosocial stress is neither necessary nor sufficient to trigger the onset of psychosis. There is evidence that psychosocial stressors increase a risk of PLEs and psychosis through a number of psychological mechanisms. Studies in this field have indicated a role of negative affect, aberrant salience and threat anticipation. Negative affect captures individual tendency to experience negative emotions. In turn, aberrant salience can be defined as the tendency to overattribute meaning to irrelevant environmental exposures.

Finally, threat anticipation is the hypervigilance state of anticipating adverse experiences. Studies investigating the association between psychosocial stress and psychosis often neglect one of most important observations, i.e., the fact that PLEs often emerge in the context of routine daily activities and stressors. Therefore, it has been proposed that assessment of real-time functioning by approaching experience sampling methodology (ESM) might provide grounds for better understanding of the association between stress and psychosis. The ESM is based on repeated recordings of daily experiences using modern technologies, such as smartphones.

According to biopsychosocial models of psychosis, psychological processes mediating the association between stress and psychosis should be investigated together with biological mechanisms. Indeed, psychosocial stress activates a number of biological processes that might be relevant to the development of PLEs and psychotic disorders. One of them is related to the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that leads to the release of glucocorticoids represented by cortisol. Short-term activation of the HPA axis enables to maintain homeostasis and cope with stress. However, persistent activation or overactivation of the HPA axis may be deleterious. Moreover, it has been reported that the activation of the HPA axis might also increase the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic system. In turn, excessive release of dopamine has been associated with the development of PLEs. Various aspects of the HPA axis dysregulation have been reported in subjects with PLEs and psychosis. However, there is a high interindividual variability in individual HPA axis responses, likely attributable to genetic backgrounds. It has been found that the FK506-binding protein (FKBP5) is one of main regulators of cellular cortisol activity. It protects cells against excessive activity of cortisol. There is evidence that certain variants of the FKBP5 gene make individuals more prone to develop PLEs in response to various categories of psychosocial stress. However, little is known about the relevance of epigenetic processes, such as DNA methylation and microRNAs (miRNAs) in the regulation of the FKBP5 expression. Our group was the first to demonstrate that individuals with first-episode psychosis show decreased levels of the FKBP5 gene methylation, attributable to a history of childhood trauma.

This project will have the following aims:

  1. to investigate the role of epigenetic marks at FKBP5 gene in moderating the association between momentary stress and PLEs by adopting ESM;
  2. to explore the moderating effects of epigenetic marks at the FKBP5 gene on the relationship between momentary stress response and antecedents of PLEs (negative affect, aberrant salience and threat anticipation);
  3. to examine the association between epigenetic regulation of the FKBP5 gene and psychosis proneness
  4. to identify differences in salivary cortisol response to momentary stress between individuals with PLEs and those without PLEs.

Out of 3000 general population individuals aged 18 – 35 years and screened for PLEs, we will recruit 100 subjects with PLEs and 100 subjects without PLEs as controls. Next, we will collect blood samples to perform analysis of methylation (at 16 CpG sites) and expression of the FKBP5 gene as well as miRNAs (32 species) targeting the FKBP5 gene. All subjects will undergo the ESM protocol (random-sampling protocol, 6 prompts per day on 7 consecutive days). After each prompt, individuals will be asked to collect saliva samples and answer 32 Likert-like questions evaluating the level of psychosocial stress, negative affect, aberrant salience, threat anticipation and PLEs. For the first time, this project will show whether epigenetic marks at the FKBP5 gene moderate the association between daily stressors and PLEs together with their psychological antecedents and cortisol responses.

Conditions to be met by the Candidate: 

  • Only a person who does not hold a doctoral degree and is not a doctoral school participant may enter the competition;
  • The competition may be entered by a person who obtains a degree in medicine, master's degree in biology, biotechnology or other related before 30 April 2023.
  • Preferred person with knowledge of molecular biology methods and proven experience in a scientific laboratory.
  • Knowledge of psychiatry in the context of the project topic is welcome 

Legal basis of recruitment 

Recruitment is carried out in accordance with the Act of 20 July 2018 Law on Higher Education and Science (Journal of Laws of 2018, item 1668, as amended, hereinafter: "The Law on Higher Education and Science"), Recruitment to the Wrocław Doctoral School of Institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences and - to the extent applicable - the Regulations on granting research scholarships in research projects financed by the National Science Center of March 14, 2019, adopted by the NCN Council Resolution No. 26/2019 of March 14, 2019 ., in the wording established by the Resolution of the Council of the National Science Center No. 49/2020 of 29 April 2020 on amending the Regulations on awarding funds for research projects funded by the National Science Center (hereinafter referred to as the "Regulations on granting scholarships in research projects financed from National Science Centre).

 Criteria and method of assessing Candidates:

During the recruitment process, the Candidate will be assessed in accordance with the criteria set for recruitment to the Doctoral School and to the extent necessary to grant the NCN research scholarship, taking into account the overall assessment of the Candidate's suitability for carrying out the tasks provided for in the Research Project.

Doctoral student's duties: 

  • FKBP5 gene methylation assay
  • Analysis of FKBP5 gene expression
  • Targeted profiling of selected miRNAs
  • Development of research results for reports and presentation of results at scientific conferences

Scholarship:

During the period of education at the Doctoral School, the Doctoral Student will receive a doctoral scholarship within the meaning of Art. 209 sec. 1 of the Act on Higher Education and Science co-financed from the funds of the National Science Center allocated for the remuneration of the PhD student in the budget of the Research Project.

The approximate amount of the doctoral scholarship determined in accordance with the Act on Higher Education and Science as at the date of publishing this announcement will be:

a) PLN 2,667.70 gross per month until the month in which the mid-term evaluation of the doctoral student at the Doctoral School will be carried out,

b) PLN 4,109.70 gross per month after the month in which the mid-term evaluation of the doctoral student at the Doctoral School was carried out.

The doctoral scholarship will be paid after deduction of all components, in accordance with applicable regulations. In particular, the costs of compulsory social insurance and - at the request of the PhD student - the costs of sickness insurance will be covered.

If, during the recruitment process, the Candidate also meets the conditions for granting NCN research scholarships, set out in the above-mentioned Regulations on granting scholarships in research projects financed by the National Science Centre, he/she will receive an additional benefit in the form of an NCN research scholarship - paid each time in the amount remaining after deducting the total costs of the doctoral scholarship settled in the Project from the monthly budget for the remuneration of the PhD Student in the Research Project

The approximate amount of the additional research scholarship will be PLN 1,380.66 gross per month for 24 months (until mid-term evaluation). In the next 13 months it will amount to PLN 194.53 gross. The scholarship will not be paid for the last 11 months of education at the Doctoral School.

The amount of the doctoral scholarship and the NCN research scholarship may be changed in the event of a decision by the minister responsible for higher education and science to announce a new base rate, in accordance with Art. 209 sec. 4 of the Law on Higher Education.

The NCN research scholarship will be paid on the basis of the agreement and the above-mentioned Regulations for granting research scholarships in research projects financed from the funds of the National Science Centre.

Submitting an application: 

Applications of Candidates for admission to the Doctoral School should be submitted by 30/04/2023, by 15:00:

  • electronically to the address (with the annotation ENDO recruitment), the original documents should be delivered before starting the education, or
  • in person at the seat of the Doctoral School (INTiBS PAN ul. Okólna 2 in Wrocław) from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

For more information, please contact Edyta Pawlak (e-mail: , tel. 887679779).

Required documents: 

  • an application for admission to the WDS IPAS together with a statement that you have read the rules of recruitment to the WDS IPAS;
  • a completed personal questionnaire containing a list of scientific publications, scholarships and awards, a list of conferences in which the Candidate participated, together with the titles and authors of the speeches, in accordance with the document Principles of recruitment to the Wrocław Doctoral School of Institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences for the academic year 2022/23;
  • a letter of application containing a short description of scientific interests and achievements as well as justification of the intention to start education at the doctoral school;
  • a statement that in the event of admission to WDS IPAS, HIIET will be the only doctoral school in which the candidate will study;
  • a copy of the diploma confirming graduation or a certificate of obtaining a master's degree in biology or biotechnology;
  • a copy (copy) of the entire index of first and second-cycle studies (or uniform master's studies), or a diploma supplement with grades for the entire studies, or a student grade card for all years of study confirmed by the dean's office;
  • English language certificate at the B2 level or higher (does not apply to candidates who passed the final exam at this level during their studies);
  • one or more letters of recommendation (sent directly to the address below);

Information clause: 

Based on Article. 13 of Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46 / EC (General Data Protection Regulation) (Journal of Laws UE L 119 of 04/05/2016, p. 1), hereinafter referred to as "GDPR", I would like to inform you that:

  • The administrator of your personal data is the Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Wrocław, ul. Rudolf Weigl 12, 53-114 Wrocław.
  • The administrator of personal data can be contacted by letter to the address given in point 1 above, or by phone at 71 3709940, and the data protection officer appointed by him can be contacted in all matters regarding data processing via the e-mail account: iod @ hirszfeld.pl or by post to the registered office address.
  • Personal data will be processed in order to perform the administrator's tasks related to recruitment for a research project entitled "Relevance of epigenetic regulation of the FKBP5 gene in moderating the association between psychosocial stress and psychotic-like experiences – an experience sampling method study" commissioned by the National Science Center (grant no. 2021/41/B/HS6/02323) and to the Wrocław Doctoral School of Institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences, thus Your personal data will be processed on the basis of the Act of 20 July 2018 Law on Higher Education and Science (Article 6 (1) (c) of the GDPR), the Controller's legitimate interest in the implementation of the research project (Article 6 (1)) f GDPR) and in connection with their necessity to conclude the NCN scholarship agreement (Article 6 (1) (b) of the GDPR).
  • Providing your personal data by you is voluntary, but necessary to achieve the above-mentioned purposes.
  • Personal data collected in the current recruitment process will be kept during the recruitment period.
  • The person whose data is processed has the right to: access personal data, request the rectification of personal data, request the deletion of personal data, request to limit the processing of personal data, object to the processing of data due to a special situation.
  • The person whose data is processed also has the right to lodge a complaint with the President of the Personal Data Protection Office, if it is found that the Administrator has breached the provisions on the protection of personal data.
  • As a result of processing, decisions will not be made in an automated manner (without human intervention), including not based on profiling.
  • Personal data may be made available to our authorized employees, processors, i.e. those performing activities on our behalf (eg IT and accounting services), and the personal data of a Candidate selected in the competition may then be made available to third parties authorized by law.