Tuesday, October 22, 2019

PhD Opportunities in San Sebastian, Spain--BCBL

The Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities has published the call for PhD Students 2019. The application period is from 17/10/19 to 07/11/19 at 14:00h.

The call offers:


Key words: Thalamus, Language Systems, Reading, Vision, Functional Connectivity, Structural Connectivity, Lateral Geniculate Nucleus, Medial Geniculate Nucleus, Pulvinar

Summary of the project:

Since the early 1960s, evidence from spontaneous and surgical lesions has pointed to the involvement of the human thalamic nuclei in language function. Several proposals have been put forward regarding a thalamic role in cognitive function in general and language function in particular. However, to date, our understanding of the role of the thalamus in language function remains limited. The thalamus is a diencephalic structure with massive white matter fiber projections to almost the entire cerebral cortex. It is involved in the flow of sensory signals to the cortex and continues to contribute to the processing of information within cortical hierarchies. Among other functions, the thalamus is involved in the regulation of consciousness, sleep and alert states, the motor system, language, memory and attention, as well as in clinical conditions such as schizophrenia, Alzheimers disease and dyslexia. Recently, we developed the first probabilistic atlas of the human thalamic nuclei combining high-resolution ex vivo magnetic reasonance imaging (MRI) and histology, and have implemented a companion segmentation toolbox in the neuroimaging package FreeSurfer to support in vivo study of the thalamus and its subnuclei in MRI research. The proposed research project will capitalize on this tool, the well-known neuroanatomy of thalamocortical connections and the use of multimodal MRI techniques to investigate: 1) the developmental trajectories of the thalamic nuclei gray-matter volume and white matter connections across the life span and their relation to individual differences in language-related variables; 2) the functional and structural involvement of specific thalamic nuclei and their thalamocortical interactions in language production, speech comprehension and reading in a large sample of young adults; 3) the functional and structural contributions of thalamocortical circuits to reading in typically and atypically-developing samples with reference to some of the most important theories of reading and dyslexia. Thus, this research project aims to conduct a comprehensive multimodal investigation of thalamic contributions and thalamocortical interactions in language function within a neurocognitive, neuroanatomical and psycholinguistic framework. A key focus will be a better understanding how reading disabilities may occur as a consequence of breakdowns in thalamocortical circuits. In this regard, this project stands at the cutting edge of national and international research precisely tracking the role of the thalamus in language function, and will further allow the development of a mechanistic model of the contribution of the thalamic subnuclei and their interactions with cortical regions to central language systems.
Individuals interested in the PhD position should have:
  • A strong theoretical and methodological background in cognitive neuroscience, biomedical engineering or experimental psychology.
  • A strong level of written and spoken English.
  • Strong computational skills (Matlab, Python,…)
Research experience with neuroimaging techniques (MRI, M/EEG) will be an asset. Possession of a Master degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, Experimental Psychology or any other related area is highly recommended and will be positively valued.
For more information:


Key words: Music training, Speech processing, Auditory cortical entrainment, Audiovisual synchronization, Predictive timing, Magnetoencephalography, Naturalistic stimulation

Summary of the project:
Recent studies have shown that musicians outperform nonmusicians on a variety of tasks related to speech processing, suggesting that musical training may boost our ability to process auditory language. Yet, we know very little about the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying such musician advantage. On one hand, a several studies suggest that musical training enhances the sensitivity of the auditory pathways to sound in general. This would improve human acoustic skills that may in turn transfer to language acquisition and processing.
On the other hand, it has been hypothesized that musical training might refine the interaction between motor and auditory regions. This in turn would boost the ability to develop regular and precise temporal predictions, utilizing more fine-tuned motor production plans of the spoken sounds. Understanding which is the driving force underlying the improved language performance in musicians is a topic of central interest in cognitive neuroscience, with inevitable implications for the development of intervention strategies for language acquisition and associated developmental disorders. This project aims at informing such applied research by uncovering the neural mechanisms underlying the musician advantage. To this purpose we will study auditory cortical entrainment in musicians and nonmusicians. Cortical entrainment refers to the ability of the brain to naturally synchronize its internal oscillatory activity with the rhythm of the external auditory signals. This phenomenon has been shown to play a pivotal role in the extrapolation of linguistic tokens from acoustic signals and in the construction of coherent auditory representations. Crucially, different components of this phenomenon have been linked to both passive auditory sensitivity (involving auditory regions) and active predictive timing (involving premotor regions). Comparing rhythmic auditory processing and cortical entrainment to speech and music in musician vs nonmusicians will provide us with a unique model to (1) evaluate the specific aspects of language processing that are enhanced by music training; (2) unveil the specific neurocognitive mechanisms underlying such improved performance; and (3) use the fundamental knowledge of (1) and (2) to define better treatment for intervention in language disorders.


Research experience with neuroimaging techniques (MRI, M/EEG) will be an asset. Possession of a Master degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering Experimental Psychology or any other related area is highly recommended and will be positively valued.
For more information:

1 PhD Student position (4-year contract) to join RTI2018-093547-B-I00: Is the brain connectome a good predictor for the language network functional malleability? LangConn to be supervised by Prof. Carreiras and Dr. Quiñones.

Key words: Language network, connectome, individual variabilities, neuroplasticity, graph-theory, second language learners, pre-surgical patients, low-grade glioma

Summary of the project:
The current project introduces a novel multivariate network-based approach where the combination of functional and structural measures will allow us to characterize the language connectivity fingerprints (i.e., connectome) taking also into account its intrinsic individual variability. Using this pioneering approach, we will characterize the connectome underlying the decoding and integration of linguistic signals and determine whether this connectome could be used to predict individual differences in language performance. For the first time, structural and language-related functional measures will be collected on the same participants across different language-specific tasks (i.e., comprehension and production) in two different languages (i.e., Spanish-L1 and Basque-L2). After the definition and characterization of the language connectome, it will be possible to investigate the capacity of this system to react when a salient language-related event occurs. The location of Donostia-San Sebastian, where the BCBL is situated, and the work relationship established between our institution and the Hospital Universitario Cruces in Bilbao, offers a unique opportunity to address this question. The Basque Country holds a Spanish-Basque bilingual population where it is possible to test people with different linguistic profiles. Thus, here at the BCBL, we have access to two different populations where neural plasticity seems to be a remarkable feature in terms of neural adaptability: (1) adults second language learners and (2) pre-surgical patients with low-grade gliomas affecting perisylvian areas involved in the processing of linguistic signals. While the first group allows us to investigate neural plasticity associated with the acquisition of new language-specific knowledge in a healthy and functionally typical brain, the second group of participants enables us to study the neural capacity to negotiate L1 and L2 language information after the removal of a critical language-related area. In summary, our primary goal is to determine to what extent the language connectome could be used to predict plastic changes associated with language-related salient events. Thus, in order to test the predictability power of the language connectome, we propose a longitudinal approach where both adults L2 learners and pre-surgical patients will be recorded before and after the occurrence of the critical event. Specifically, L2 learners will be recorded before and after they learn to read/speak in a second language, and the pre-surgical patients will be tested before and six months after brain surgery. By longitudinally tracking individual profiles at both behavioral and neural levels, with a special focus on changes in the network topology and dynamics, it is possible to bridge the gap between language functions, bilingualism and brain plasticity.
Individuals interested in the PhD position should have:
  • MSc in Psychology (preferable biological or experimental psychology), Biomedical Engineering, or any other related area. Good experimental and statistical skills and excellent written and spoken English.
  • Previous experience with neuroimaging methods and programming are a plus.
For more information:

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