Postgraduate research opportunities

GLUT4 distribution in the plasma membrane: from single molecules to whole muscles

Insulin promotes glucose transport by moving GLUT4 from insulin-sensitive intracellular stores to the plasma membrane and by the subsequent insulin-stimulated dispersal of GLUT4 within the plasma membrane. We will use novel imaging approaches to study mechanisms underpinning this response.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


20 January 2020


17 February 2020


36 Months


Please contact Professor Gwyn Gould for further information

Eligibility for RCUK studentships

  • Research Council (RC) fees and stipend can only be awarded to UK and EU students and not to EEA or International students.
  • EU students are only eligible for RC stipend if they have been resident in the UK for 3 years, including for study purposes, immediately prior to starting their PhD.
  • If an EU student cannot fulfil this condition then they are eligible for a fees only studentship.
  • International students cannot be funded from RC funds unless they are ‘settled’ in the UK. ‘Settled’ means being ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of stay in the UK. To be ‘settled’ a student must either have the Right to Abode or Indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have the right of permanent residence in the UK under EC law. If the student’s passport describes them as a British citizen they have the Right of Abode.
  • Students with full Refugee status are eligible for fees and stipend.

Project Details

Insulin promotes glucose transport by moving GLUT4 from insulin-sensitive intracellular stores to the plasma membrane (PM). Recent work has revealed that in addition to promotingGLUT4 traffic to the PM, insulin also stimulates the dispersal of GLUT4 within the PM. In the absence of insulin, clusters of GLUT4 are retained at the site of delivery and are rapidly re-internalised. Insulin promotes a 60-fold increase in the rate of dispersal of GLUT4 away from the fusion site; this is thought to be an essential step in the activation of the glucose transport function and thus represents a new paradigm for insulin action.

The mechanism(s) which underpin this dispersal remain unresolved. At present it is unclear whether insulin stimulates dispersal in either cardiomyocytes or human skeletal muscle cells, how exercise impacts on this phenomenon, or whether this dispersal is modulated in diabetes.

In the transgenic model GLUT4 is tagged with GFP and can be imaged in intact tissues using microscopy. We shall marry this opportunity with the imaging capability of the mesolens which offers a level of unparalleled structural analysis of tissues over a significant scale. We will use the power of this system to probe the distribution of GLUT4 in whole tissues, notably heart and muscle.

GLUT4 translocation in muscle is poorly understood in part because of difficulties in isolating muscle cells and by difficulties in studying behaviour of tagged-GLUT4 molecules in muscle cells which may cover several mm in length - way beyond conventional microscopy.

We will use this system to study GLUT4 distribution in intact hearts and muscle cells and compare the actions of insulin and exercise on GLUT4 distribution. Does GLUT4 traffic to the sarcolemma in the same way in response to different stimuli? Are they additive? Does each myofibril look the same? These are examples of questions which cannot be answered using existing technology.


The key unanswered questions which this studentship will address are:

  • Does insulin promote GLUT4 dispersal in cardiomyocytes or muscle cells?
  • Is this dispersal impaired in T2DM or obesity?
  • How is the distribution of GLUT4 modulated by insulin in intact tissues – do all cells behave similarly? If not, why not? and
  • Can we study changes in this during disease progression?

How to apply

Contact the Supervisor Directly with CV