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Neurophysiology and plasticity across the female lifespan (REF: RDF22/HLS/SER/ANSDELL)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Paul Ansdell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Our nervous systems adapt to our internal and external environments at each level (brain, spinal cord, and motor units). The capacity for neural adaptation is a fundamental component in healthy ageing, but also in rehabilitation from injury and disease, and the ability to manipulate nervous system excitability is crucial in these processes. Recently, our work has demonstrated the effects of the menstrual cycle on various aspects of the motor pathway, including excitability. These hormone-induced changes have implications for acute motor tasks, but might also affect long-term nervous system adaptation.

This PhD will investigate the neuro-endocrine interactions across the female lifespan, studying the influence of endogenous and exogenous hormones in pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women. In pre-menopausal women, the influences of changing endogenous hormones across the menstrual cycle, and exogenous hormonal contraceptives on acute nervous system function and chronic adaptation are currently unknown. Furthermore, during peri- and post-menopause, the involvement of the nervous system in poorer functional outcomes for females in later life, and the role of hormone replacement therapy in mediating this hormone-related decline, is also unknown. These questions will be answered during this PhD, providing novel insight into how the female nervous system changes with chronological and endocrinological aging. The findings will inform future interventions that consider the physiological differences between males and females to optimise outcomes in health and disease for both sexes.

The research questions will be answered using state-of-the-art methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and high-density surface electromyography (HD-EMG) in combination with endocrinological techniques to quantify hormone concentrations. Neural adaptation can be studied using non-invasive brain stimulation, motor learning, and exercise (e.g. resistance training), therefore experience with these techniques or interventions is welcomed. However, the candidate will be supported and trained by supervisors who are well-experienced in the fields of neurophysiology and exercise science (Dr Paul Ansdell, Dr Kirsty Hicks, Dr Stuart Goodall), therefore experience is not essential. This PhD will add to the growing body of work studying sex differences and female physiology, therefore applications from those interested in these topics from a wide range of backgrounds (Physiology, Neuroscience, Exercise Science, and Physiotherapy) are particularly encouraged.

For more information, and/or an informal discussion about the project please contact Dr Paul Ansdell ([Email Address Removed]).

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • 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 currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

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

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Ansdell, P., Brownstein, C.G., Škarabot, J., Hicks, K.M., Simoes, D.C., Thomas, K., Howatson, G., Hunter, S.K. and Goodall, S., 2019. Menstrual cycle-associated modulations in neuromuscular function and fatigability of the knee extensors in eumenorrheic women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 126(6), pp.1701-1712.
Škarabot, J., Ansdell, P., Brownstein, C.G., Hicks, K.M., Howatson, G., Goodall, S. and Durbaba, R., 2019. Reduced corticospinal responses in older compared with younger adults during submaximal isometric, shortening, and lengthening contractions. Journal of Applied Physiology, 126(4), pp.1015-1031.
Ansdell, P., Thomas, K., Hicks, K.M., Hunter, S.K., Howatson, G. and Goodall, S., 2020. Physiological sex differences affect the integrative response to exercise: acute and chronic implications. Experimental Physiology, 105(12), pp.2007-2021.
Ansdell, P., Škarabot, J., Atkinson, E., Corden, S., Tygart, A., Hicks, K.M., Thomas, K., Hunter, S.K., Howatson, G. and Goodall, S., 2020. Sex differences in fatigability following exercise normalised to the power–duration relationship. The Journal of physiology, 598(24), pp.5717-5737.
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