Neural circuits that control movement: from mice to humans

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Using state-of-the-art neurophysiological methods, and optogenetics, we aim to understand the neural circuits within the Pedunculopontine Nucleus (PPN), an area which is known to control movement (via projections to the spinal cord) and its connections to the motor thalamus (a region involved in motor planning). Notably, nearly one third of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have difficulty initiating movement referred to as Freezing of Gait (FoG). PD is characterised by akinesia, rigidity and tremor which respond well to dopamine replacement. However, FoG does not respond to dopamine replacement, and Deep Brain Stimulation of the PPN is currently the only effective treatment. In PD there is cell loss in the PPN, but why patients suffer from FoG, and how stimulation of PPN alleviates FoG is not known. We propose that loss of neurons in PPN leads to FoG, not because of disruption in motor control, but due to impairment in decision making and motor planning. We will use animal models complemented by behavioural studies and electrophysiological recordings in PD patients undergoing surgery to manage FoG with Deep Brain Stimulation, to test the role of the PPN in the decision to move, and how this decision making is affected by deep brain stimulation. This understanding will drive the discovery of new ways to freezing of gait. This project will use a mouse model to study the circuits that drive movement. It will use viral vectors to delivery tracers and use state-of-the-art electrophysiology to study neural connections that are affected in Parkinsons disease.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Professor Pankaj Sah

Queensland Brain Institute


Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of neurobiology (neurons, and synaptic connections), and synaptic transmission and its pharmacology would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of physiology and pharmacology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of physiology, pharmacology, neuroanatomy, and ion channels is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2025. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process