PhD Position in Temporal Dynamics of Neuropeptide Signaling Networks

Catholic University of Leuven Department of Biology


The Beets lab (Neural Signaling and Circuit Plasticity group) at the Biology Department of KU Leuven ( is seeking a motivated and creative postdoctoral scientist to study the temporal dynamics of neuropeptide signaling networks in C. elegans. Our research addresses fundamental questions on how neuromodulatory networks mediate experience-dependent plasticity in nervous systems. Ultimately, this requires an understanding of when and how specific neuromodulatory pathways act within the context of neuronal circuitry to encode contextual information and reprogram motor output. To achieve such a reductionist understanding of neuromodulation, we are using the genetically tractable model organism C. elegans that has a compact and well-defined nervous system. Our research group is part of the Animal Physiology and Neurobiology division at KU Leuven ( and is located on a beautiful campus in historic Leuven, proclaimed the European Capital of Innovation 2020. We are also affiliated with the Leuven Brain Institute ( at the Biomedical Sciences Campus.


Neuromodulatory signals, such as neuropeptides, are important in fine-tuning behaviors depending on internal state and environmental context. While these functions have been established for several neuropeptides, understanding the fundamental principles of neuromodulation requires insight into when and how specific neuropeptide pathways operate within the context of neuronal circuitry. Such a reductionist understanding of neuromodulation presents several challengers. Neuropeptides are diverse, broadly expressed, and have combinatorial actions that can be challenging to dissect, especially in numerically complex brains. Moreover, neuropeptide circuits often communicate through wireless non-synaptic signaling and can be sculpted by experience. In simpler genetically tractable organisms such as the nematode C. elegans, understanding the temporal dynamics of neuropeptide signaling, however, is an achievable goal.

We are using the nematode C. elegans, whose neural connectome has been completely mapped, to discover fundamental principles of neuropeptidergic modulation. Using a system-wide approach, we are mapping the neuropeptide signaling network in C. elegans that consists of a dense and evolutionarily conserved network of neuropeptide-receptor interactions. As a model, C. elegans has two main advantages to map neuropeptide connectivity brain-wide: The anatomic simplicity of its nervous system facilitates such a comprehensive analysis, and the neuropeptide network can be compared with the already established synaptic connectome. Using a broad range of approaches, including optogenetics, tracking-based behavioral analysis, cell-type specific RNAseq and molecular genetics, we are investigating when and where neuropeptides act within this network to understand how they control behavioral states. In particular, we have focused on microcircuits involved in aversive learning and homeostasis that we found to be regulated by specific and temporally-defined neuropeptide signaling interactions. We are also developing tools that allow visualizing neuropeptide signaling in vivo to further dissect these temporal dynamics.
In your role as postdoc, you will have the opportunity to shape and lead research projects to uncover mechanisms by which neuropeptidergic circuits regulate behavior. You need to be able to organize and troubleshoot your work independently, document it thoroughly and communicate results and experience with the team in a transparent and professional manner. In addition, you must have good communication skills and a collaborative spirit. You provide advice and guidance to bachelor, master and PhD students where applicable.


  • We are looking for a postdoc who is highly motivated and has a strong interest in neuromodulation, experience-dependent plasticity and neural circuit function.
  • PhD in neuroscience, biology, biochemistry or related field, and strong experience in neurobiology are required.
  • Experience in one of the following topics is not required but considered a plus: C. elegans genetics, neural imaging, RNAseq and/or bioinformatics.
  • High intrinsic motivation, creative, dedicated and critical thinking.
  • Ability to clearly communicate research results to other lab members and scientists.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English.
  • Team player that can work autonomous in an international team.
  • Proactive, flexible, problem-solving attitude.


  • A versatile academic position with diverse (international) contacts in a stimulating research environment, with various opportunities to broaden your expertise and where quality, professionalism and team spirit are encouraged.
  • A full-time contract of one year (extendable after a positive evaluation) on a recently granted ERC project FLEXPEPNET. You are stimulated to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship.
  • The earliest possible start date is February 2021.
  • The salary will be in accordance with the University salary scales for postdoctoral researchers.
  • The opportunity to work and live in one of the most innovative universities and cities in Europe. Leuven is located 20 min from Brussels, in the centre of Europe.


Candidates can apply by submitting their CV and motivation letter via the online application tool. Please also include the names and contact details of three senior researchers that are willing to write a letter of recommendation upon request. For more information please contact Prof. dr. Isabel Beets, tel.: +32 16 37 36 97, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than January 31, 2021 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: January 31, 2021
  • Tags: Biologie

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