Professor Pankaj Sah

 - Affiliate Investigator

Research focus: Understand the neural circuitry that underpins learning and memory formation

Professor Pankaj Sah is has been at the forefront of discovery and study of circuits and synapses in the mammalian central nervous system. He was involved in pioneering the technique of whole-cell electrophysiological recordings in acute brain slices. This is now the standard recording technique for electrophysiological recordings in brain slices. These initial studies provided the first description of the biophysical properties of excitatory synapses in the hippocampus, a region important for learning and memory formation (Journal of Physiology, 1989).

This characterisation of the properties of glutamate receptors at central synapses has provided seminal knowledge as to how they function and is described in all standard neuroscience textbooks, for example Principles of Neuroscience (Kandel and Schwartz). More recently Professor Sah has contributed to the identification of a latent stem cell population in the hippocampus (Journal of Neuroscience, 2008). 

The amygdala is well known to be involved in fear-related learning and Professor Sah’s has made a number of key discoveries about neurones and circuits in this region. This research is of major importance in establishing links between neuronal activity and specific behaviours involving learning and memory. Professor Sah has also provided a detailed description of projection neurons in the lateral amygdala and the properties of their synaptic inputs (Europ J. Neuroscience, 1999), and in particular, has provided evidence that inputs to interneurons in the lateral amygdala activate fundamentally different types of glutamate receptors. 

Professor Sah has also shown that the subunit composition of AMPA receptors at interneurons are different from those on principal cells. Furthermore, Professor Sah will contribute to a physiological role for this receptor in a novel form of synaptic plasticity (Nature, 1998). Professor Sah will oversee experimental studies in the Stem Cells Australia initiative to determine:
  • Electrophysiological properties of newly formed neurons and oligodendrocytes and the factors involved in their development.
  • Synaptic connections onto newly formed neurons and the properties of synaptic plasticity at these synapses.
  • How newly formed neurons integrate into the local circuitry
  • The role of newly formed neurons in learning and memory formation.