Postdoctoral Positions in Epigenetic Coding of Life Experiences  

We have openings for scientists with expertise in molecular neurobiology, epigenetics, or bioinformatics.

Our laboratory is working on the new and emerging area of environment-induced epigenetic memory in the brain and its impact on mental health. Humans are exposed to environmental challenges through life, from adverse care in childhood, to sedentary lifestyle, chronic societal stress, psychological trauma, and drugs of abuse during adolescence and adulthood. While some of these experiences produce adaptation to cope with the insults, others have a permanent adverse impact on the individuals’ mental health and social life. Interestingly, life experiences, whether adverse or beneficial, not only have effects on the individuals who directly experience these events, but also on their children and even grandchildren.

Since these processes of adaptation are evolutionarily conserved, we use mouse models to reproduce and study the impact of naturally occurring and man-made environmental challenges on brain and behavior. Thus, our work has both medical and ecological implications.

The long-term goal of our work is to build a theoretical framework and specify the principles underlying the epigenomic response to environmental insults that leads to adaptation or maladaptation in brain function and behavior.

We are looking for postdocs in two projects:

1.     How are environmental cues routed to the brain? We are interested in how environmental cues reach the brain to cause epigenetic changes. We demonstrated in mice that maternal stress and inflammatory conditions during pregnancy increase anxiety in the offspring. Further, we found that maternal physical exercise during the lactating period programs a higher level of social dominance in the male offspring. We identified changes in maternal serum and breast milk cytokines that can signal across the placenta and the neonatal gut, respectively, to program offspring behavior.

A new postdoc will study how maternal cytokines, by interacting with their corresponding receptors in the placenta or offspring gut, activate immunological, neural and microbial pathways to program the offspring brain. S/he will also extend our work on identifying maternal systems that “sense” and “register” adverse environmental effects. For example, we found that tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the maternal brain, a cytokine first identified in the immune system, responds to environmental cues in the maternal environment and programs accordingly the level of offspring innate fear.

Relevant papers from our lab are:

Liu B, Zupan B, Laird E, Klein S, Gleason G, Bozinoski M, Toth GJ, Toth M. Maternal hematopoietic TNF, via milk chemokines, programs hippocampal development and memory. Nature Neuroscience, 17: 97-105, 2014.

Zupan, B., Liu, BF., Taki, F., Toth GJ., Toth, M. Maternal brain TNF programs innate fear in the offspring. Current Biology, 2017; 27(24):3859-3863.

Gleason, G., Liu, B., Bruening, S., Zupan, B., Auerbach, A, Mark, W, Oh, J-e., Gal, J., Lee, F., Toth M. Serotonin1A receptor gene as a genetic and prenatal maternal environmental factor in anxiety. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 107(16):7592-7. 2010. PMID: 20368423.

 

2. Encoding and storing the memory of life experiences in the epigenome. Our laboratory has recently identified a large number of small genomic regions in neurons that, by switching their epigenetic state, respond to sustained (but not short duration) environmental changes. Once switched, the epigenetic state persists and can be even permanent. Switches are embedded in genes and have gene regulatory activities. Different environmental challenges result in switching in different sets of regions and genes. These findings provide a foundation for a general epigenetic theory of adaptation.

A new postdoc is expected to further develop aspects of this theory, including the stochasticity and stability of epigenetic states, the combinatorial epigenetic states of switches that underlie the memory of experiences, conservation of epigenetic states at switches in mammals, and the translation of epigenetic states to gene and circuit functions.

Relevant papers from our lab are:

Oh JE, Chambwe N, Klein S, Gal J, Andrews S, Gleason G et al. Differential gene body methylation and reduced expression of cell adhesion and neurotransmitter receptor genes in adverse maternal environment. Translational psychiatry 2013; 3: e218. 22 January 2013.

Sharma A, Klein SS, Barboza L, Lohdi N, Toth M. Principles Governing DNA Methylation during Neuronal Lineage and Subtype Specification. The Journal of Neuroscience 36(5):1711-22, 2016. PMID: 26843651 PMCID: PMC4737779.

Mitchell E, Klein S, Argyropoulos VK, Sharma S, Chan RB, Toth JG, Barboza L, Bavley C, Bortolozzi A, Chen Q, Liu B, Ingenito J, Mark W, Dudakov J, Gross S, Di Paolo G, Artigas F, Brink M, Toth M. Behavioral traits propagate across generations via segregated iterative-somatic and gametic epigenetic mechanisms. Nature Communications 7:11492. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms11492, 2016.

 

The Toth Laboratory employs diverse and novel techniques including genome-wide epigenetic analyses, chromatin modifications, functional circuit mapping and animal behavior. Our work is supported by our institutional Epigenomic and Genomic Cores, as well as collaborators in Immunology, Metabolism, Metabolomics, and Microbiology. Therefore, the laboratory environment provides an opportunity for postdocs to obtain broad and interdisciplinary training that is not found in most other laboratories. This unique training opportunity can be valuable for those interested in a career in either academia or pharma.

The ideal candidate will have a Ph.D. in neuroscience or a related field and have prior research experience in molecular or cellular biology. Preference will also be given to those with familiarity with at least one of the following: quantitative analysis of epigenetic data, animal models of CNS disorders, and/or functional circuit-mapping. Candidates must also demonstrate a strong track record of research productivity, scientific rigor, excellent communication skills, and an ability to work both independently and as part of a team.

Our projects involve exciting and emerging areas of research. Since we are exploring very new research areas, the publications that arise from the project will likely have an important impact on the field. These types of papers can be valuable for postdocs who are interested in academia.

Cornell University's Weill Medical College is located in Manhattan, New York, immediately adjacent to the Sloan Kettering Institute and Rockefeller University. This "tri-institutional campus" includes several hundred principal investigators and postdocs, and has one of the highest densities of biomedical scientists in the world. This rich scientific environment provides unique and unparalleled research training opportunities, including seminars given by scientific leaders from throughout the world, opportunities for collaborations, exposure to diverse research programs, and highly sophisticated core facilities.

For more information on ongoing research in the lab, please navigate throughout the website using the menu buttons above.

Questions and/or applications, comprising a CV, statement of research interests, and the date that you can start, should be e-mailed to Dr. Miklos Toth at mtoth@med.cornell.edu.