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  Understanding and optimising motor cortex plasticity

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr Caroline Lea-Carnall, Dr L Parkes, Prof W El-Deredy  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Motor learning is a key skill required at all stages of life but is crucially important for recovery and development. A mechanistic understanding of the biological processes that underpin skill acquisition in healthy and pathological states is an important scientific and clinical goal. Developing a framework within which to test the effect of stimulation on motor network plasticity is crucial to furthering our understanding of motor learning for normal development, preventative ageing and recovery from injury or trauma.

Non-invasive sensory, magnetic, and/or electric brain stimulation are used as adjunct therapies for neurorehabilitation and to facilitate plasticity mechanisms, e.g. after stroke, to delay neurodegeneration, to enhance sensory/cognitive processing and learning, or to remediate altered cognitive processing. It is an intervention that is safe, non-invasive, economical, and can be administered in situ. However, outcomes are mixed, due to lack of understanding of how stimulation affects and interacts with ongoing brain dynamics. There is no consensus on how to apply these stimulation strategies to target a specific brain network or function, or to achieve a specific behavioural outcome. It is not clear if and how stimulation parameters might be sensitive to an individual brain’s structural organisation and connectivity.

 In this PhD, you will develop a theoretical-computational framework based on large-scale biophysical models of oscillatory networks to explain and predict the effect of non-invasive brain stimulation on neural network selection, and subsequently function, and behaviour. This framework will be validated empirically using neuroimaging and psychophysics in healthy humans.

Entry Requirements

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area/subject. Candidates with previous maths/physics experience are particularly encouraged to apply.

How to Apply

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select the PhD Neuroscience.

For international students, we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

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Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Biological Sciences (4) Computer Science (8) Mathematics (25) Medicine (26) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website


1. Lea-Carnall CA, El-Deredy W, Williams SR, Stagg CJ, & Trujillo-Baretto NA. (2021). From synaptic activity to human in vivo quantification of neurotransmitter dynamics: a neural modelling approach.
2. Lea-Carnall CA, Williams SR, Sanaei-Nezhad F, Trujillo-Barreto NJ, Montemurro MA, El-Deredy W, & Parkes LM. (2020). GABA modulates frequency-dependent plasticity in humans. iScience, 23(11).
3. Otero M, Lea-Carnall CA, Prado P, Escobar MJ, El-Deredy W. (2022). Modelling neural entrainment and its persistence: influence of frequency of stimulation and phase at the stimulus offset. Biomed. Phys. Eng. Express (in submission).
4. Garg S, Williams S, Jung J, Pobric G, Nandi T, Lim B, Vassallo G, Green J, Evans DG, Staff CJ, Parkes L, Stivaros S. Non-invasive brain stimulation modulates GABAergic activity in Neurofibromatosis 1. 2021,
5. Nezhad FS, Lea-Carnall CA, Anton A, Jung J, Michou E, Williams SR, Parkes LM, ‘Number of subjects required in common study designs for functional GABA magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the human brain at 3 Tesla’, The European journal of neuroscience 51 (8), 1784-1793 [2019].