Defects in Long-distance Neuronal Wiring in the Large Intestine and in Hirschsprungs Disease
KU Leuven

Defects in Long-distance Neuronal Wiring in the Large Intestine and in Hirschsprungs Disease

Belgium 15 May 2021


KU Leuven

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15 May 2021
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(ref. BAP-2021-112)

The Laboratory of Enteric NeuroScience (LENS) University of Leuven, Belgium is currently hiring: PhD student in Enteric Neurophysiology This PhD position is part of a joint PhD programme with the University of Melbourne (UoM, Australia) that includes a one year exchange with UoM. For more information:

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The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a complex organ that plays essential roles in the propulsion of food and waste products, nutrient and energy uptake, as well as host defense. The enteric nervous system (ENS), a meshed network of neurons and glia, controls most of these functions. During development, progenitor cells migrate down the gut and colonize the entire intestinal tube to form the ENS. However, in 1 out of 5000 live births, these progenitors do not reach the terminal end, causing the debilitating Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition in which innervation is absent from short or longer segments of large intestine. The underlying reasons are still largely unknown. Apart from this severe disorder, also subtler ENS defects can cause gut malfunction and discomfort. This is not surprising, as progenitors have the daunting task to travel long distances and bridge important junctions (esophagus to stomach, pylorus to the duodenum or distal ileum to colon).

While the UoM based researcher will focus on the upper GI tract (connection between esophagus and stomach), the KUL researcher will investigate the ileo-colonic connection. We will investigate how long-distance connections in the ENS operate and study how transplanted stem cells can repair specific lesions in the mouse ENS. Last, we will use biopsies and resection specimen from Hirschsprung’s patients to study how cellular environment affects hosting transplanted induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived precursors.

Imaging techniques have the important advantage that activity in entire cellular networks can be visualized simultaneously. With the advent of genetically encoded optical tools, a number of older microscopy techniques have regained importance as the contrast does not have to be generated by the optical approach but arises from the expression system itself. In combination with advanced (e.g. 2-photon) microscopy, it is possible to leave tissues intact and study cellular activity in situ, even at high spatiotemporal resolution. 

Key papers by LENS related to this subject: 





doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2017.151

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Living in Leuven:

More information about the programme:

KU Leuven promoters: profs. P. Vanden Berghe and M. Miserez

UoM promoters: Drs. L. Stamp and M. Hao

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Pieter Vanden Berghe,  mail: pieter.vandenberghe{at}

You can apply for this job no later than May 15, 2021 via the online application tool

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