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Investigating the role of the muscle afferent feedback regulating motor unit behaviour during fatiguing exercise in humans (RDF23/HLS/SER/ANGIUS)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

  ,  Friday, January 27, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

During exercise, the inhibitory feedback arising from group III/IV muscle afferents of the exercising muscle has been demonstrated to play an important role on the development of fatigue and pain both in healthy individuals and different clinical populations affected by cardiovascular or metabolic disorders. Several authors have suggested that the inhibitory feedback arising from muscle afferents might impair the recruitment and firing rate of motor units, thus negatively affecting force production by therefore leading to a reduced exercise capacity.

This proposed inhibitory effect has been mainly observed by changes in neuromuscular and corticospinal function. In addition, observations of the global surface electromyography (sEMG) have been used as a proxy for individual motor unit behaviour. To date, the effect of muscle afferents on individual motor unit behaviour during fatiguing exercise is significantly under explored. Considering this gap in the literature, this PhD project aims to explore and determine the role of peripheral muscle reflex from group III/IV muscle afferents on individual motor units during fatiguing exercise.

This PhD project will consist of a series of experimental studies involving different techniques to assess neuromuscular function and stimulating group III/IV muscle afferents during fatiguing exercise of lower limbs muscles that are relevant for daily locomotor activities (e.g., knee extensor muscles or tibialis anterior muscle). Motor unit behaviour will be studied by high density surface electromyography (HDsEMG) which is considered the gold standard for the non-invasive determination of individual motor unit behaviour during muscular contraction. The outcome of this project has implications for our current understanding on peripheral mechanisms causing exercise intolerance and the development of fatigue in healthy individuals and clinical populations predisposed to exaggerated and altered levels of muscle afferents activity.

The candidate will be supported and trained by supervisors who are well-experienced in the fields of neurophysiology, neuromuscular physiology, and exercise science (Dr Luca Angius, Dr Stuart Goodall, Dr. Rade Durbaba and Prof. Glyn Howatson). Applications from those interested in this topic from a wide range of backgrounds (Physiology, Neuroscience, Exercise Science) are particularly encouraged. 

 Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Luca Angius. For informal queries, please contact . For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities).  

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.  Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge https://www.gov.uk/healthcare-immigration-application
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on https://www.gov.uk/student-visa. It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-to-england-from-another-country-during-coronavirus-covid-19
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. RDF23/…).

Deadline for applications: 27 January 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023 tbc

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our doctoral students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Employer, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers.


1- Amann et al., - On the influence of group III/IV muscle afferent feedback on endurance exercise performance. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2020;
2- Angius & Crisafulli - Exercise intolerance and fatigue in chronic heart failure: is there a role for group III/IV afferent feedback? Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2020;
3- Sanderson et al., – The effect of experimental and clinical musculoskeletal pain on spinal and supraspinal projections to motoneurons and motor unit properties in humans: A systematic review. Eur J Pain. 2021;
4- Taylor et al., - Neural contributions to muscle fatigue: from the brain to the muscle and back Again. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016

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