Curtin Neurosciences Research Laboratory

The CNL are a multi-disciplinary research team with interests in ageing, non-invasive brain stimulation, rehabilitation of movement and cognition, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke and exercise. We use a range of experimental approaches and technologies to study the ways in which the human brain can change and how this affects behaviour and neuromuscular function.

students using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) machine

Facilities and equipment

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) All students receive full training in the use of TMS.

TMS is a non-invasive and painless brain stimulation technique which involves delivering a brief magnetic pulse through an inductive coil placed on the scalp over the motor cortex (M1: responsible for movement).

This stimulates the underlying neurons and results in a motor evoked potential (MEP), which causes a twitch in the associated contralateral muscle.

The amplitude and duration of this twitch can be measured using EMG and provides information about the excitation of the motor cortex. This technique provides researchers with information about the responsiveness of intracortical and corticospinal pathways.

TMS can be applied in a variety of paradigms. When applied repeatedly with carefully timed peripheral nerve electrical stimulation, this can change the excitability of the pathway and is termed “paired associative stimulation” (PAS). PAS involves a low frequency electrical stimulation of a peripheral nerve, followed by application of TMS at the contralateral M1. PAS induces changes in M1 excitability (neuroplasticity) which outlast the duration of the intervention by up to one hour, described as long term potentiation.

TMS is used in the Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory to examine cortical change (neuroplasticity) associated with rehabilitation techniques and different forms of exercise. This is done in both healthy and clinical populations (for example, stroke).

To minimalise the chance of the coil shifting during experiments and to ensure the coil is returned to the correct position when it does need to be removed, we are monitoring coil position with an NDI Polaris Vicra Optical Measurement System. This highly accurate and reliable real-time optical measuring device has two cameras that measure the 3D positions of markers attached to the coil and the head of the subject enabling it to monitor the position of the markers relative to each other in 3D.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) All students receive full training in the use of tDCS.

tDCS is a non-invasive method of cortical stimulation which can be used to modulate the excitability of a targeted brain area. During tDCS, weak constant currents of up to 2mA are applied to the scalp via two surface electrodes. These currents penetrate the brain area of the underlying cortex and alter the level of cortical excitability, which in turn modulates the firing rate of individual neurons.

Using tDCS, two types of stimulation are possible – anodal and cathodal. Anodal tDCS increases the excitability of the underlying cortex and increases spontaneous neuronal firing.  Conversely, cathodal tDCS decreases the excitability on the underlying cortex and decreases spontaneous neuronal firing.

In most studies employing tDCS, sham tDCS is usually included as a control condition. During sham tDCS, the direct current is ramped up for a period of 30 seconds and subsequently switched off. Participants thus feel the initial tingling sensation associated with tDCS but without changes in cortical excitability.

A number of very recent studies suggest that anodal tDCS may affect motor and cognitive functioning. Recent research in this lab suggests that tDCS can be used to modulate spatial attention (Loftus and Nicholls, 2012). A number of studies in Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory examine the impact of tDCS on a range of different functions. If you are interested in finding out more about studies involving tDCS, please visit the ‘current research’ section of the webpage.

Neuropsychological Assessments

Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory also conducts research examining the cognitive function of healthy and clinical populations.

The Cambridge Automated Neuroscience Battery (CANTABTM) is used to assess spatial working memory, executive function, planning abilities, recognition memory, attention, inhibition,  and reaction time (to name a few). Pen-and-paper tests are used for some cognitive measures, including the AUSNART assessment of pre-morbid IQ, Hopkins Verbal Learning and the Controlled Oral Word Association Task (to name a few).

Exercise Interventions

It has been known for some time that aerobic exercise and resistance exercise provide many health benefits if performed regularly. Recently researchers have become interested in the flow on effect of maintaining strong cardiovascular and musculoskeletal  systems on the health of the nervous system. We are currently conducting studies that assess the effects of exercise on the ability of the brain to learn and adapt, called “plasticity”. This is of particular importance for older populations as the degradation of brain tissue is normal in old age, however it appears that exercise has effects that slow this process.


Current projects and publications

Current projects

Cognitive Training and Brain Stimulation in Parkinson’s Disease

Chief Researcher: Blake Lawrence
Supervisory Researchers: Dr Andrea Loftus and A/Professor Natalie Gasson

Parkinson’s Disease can lead to problems with thinking, planning and memory. Blake’s study is examining if ‘brain training’ and ‘brain stimulation’ can be used to help improve problems like these in people with Parkinson’s. Brain training is a way of engaging the parts of the brain responsible for thinking, planning and memory and involves completing a few puzzles each day. Brain stimulation involves passing a small current through the part of the brain responsible for thinking, planning and memory – which is safe and painless. If you would like more information about this research or if you would like to participate in Blake’s study, please contact him via phone 0415 621 061 or email blake.lawrence@postgrad.curtin.edu.au


Impact of Brain Stimulation in Chronic Lower Back Pain

Chief Researcher: Emily Corti
Supervisory Researchers: Dr Andrea Loftus and A/Professor Natalie Gasson

Chronic lower back pain is often assumed to be the result of an injury or trauma to the lower back. However, we now know that pain can persist long after the original injury is healed. Little is known about why chronic lower back pain continues to persist long after the original injury is healed. In other forms of chronic pain, changes in the firing of neurons in the brain have been associated with the persistence of pain. Emily’s study is examining if the neurons are firing differently in people with chronic lower back pain, and if they are, if brain stimulation could be used to help restore normal neuronal activity. Emily’s study is also examining how attending to pain may impact on memory, thinking and planning. Emily will also examine if brain stimulation could help to improve these problems in people with chronic lower back pain. Brain stimulation involves passing a small current through the part of the brain responsible for memory, thinking and planning. The brain stimulation is safe, painless and approved by the Therapeutics Goods Association. If you would like more information about this research of if you would like to participate in Emily’s study, please contact her via phone 0431 584 166 or email Emily.corti@postgrad.curtin.edu.au

Current publications

2015

Loftus, A.M., Bucks, R.S., Thomas, M.G., Kane, R., Timms, C., Barker, R.A., & Gasson, N. (2015). Retrospective Assessment of Movement Disorder Society Criteria for Mild Cognitive Impairment in Parkinson’s Disease. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 21, 1 – 9. DOI: 10.1017/S1355617715000041


2013

Whitworth, S., Loftus, A.M., Skinner T.C., Gasson, N., Barker, R., Bucks, R. & Thomas, M.G. (2013) Personality Affects Aspects of Health-Related Quality of Life in Parkinson’s Disease via Psychological Coping Strategies. Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, 3, 45 – 53. DOI: 10.3233/JPD-120149


2010

Cruise, K., Bucks, R., Loftus, A.M., Newton, R., Pegoraro, R., Thomas, M. (2010) Exercise and Parkinson’s: Benefits for cognition and quality of life. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 123, 13 – 19

Bucks, R., Cruise, K., Loftus, A.M., Skinner, T., Barker, R., Thomas, M. (2010) Coping processes and health-related quality of life in Parkinson’s disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26, 247 – 255


For copies of these papers, please email andrea.loftus@curtin.edu.au


Collaborations

Details of collaborations with the Curtin Neurosciences Research Laboratory

NAME ABOUT
Professor Roger Barker Professor Roger Barker is a Professor of Clinical Neuroscience at the Centre for Brain Repair at Cambridge University.
Professor Barker is interested in clinical aspects of Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease, as well as new therapeutic strategies to treat these disorders. He is an active neurologist and runs the regional HD clinic and also sees patients with a range of neurological disorders.
He is Co-Editor in Chief of the ACNR and the Journal of Neurology. He currently sits on the Editorial board of several other journals and is chair of the ERC Advanced grants committee in Neural sciences and a member of the RAP of Cure-PD. Professor Barker is a primary collaborator in the ParkC component at Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory. If you are interested in Parkinson’s Disease research in the lab, please visit the ParkC section.View the Barker Lab website >
Professor Romola Bucks Romola trained in the UK in Clinical Psychology (MSc. Clinical Psychology) at the University of Birmingham. Following graduation in 1990, she took up post in the National Health Service in Gloucestershire, where she specialised in Clinical Neuropsychology, working with older adults and individuals with brain injury. Subsequently, Romola obtained a PhD from the University of Bristol (1999). Whilst working on her PhD, Romola managed the Bristol Memory Disorders Clinic and Clinical Research Centre, for diagnosis, management and research into dementia. Before moving to UWA, Romola worked in the School of Psychology at Southampton University as Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, where she trained postgraduate students in clinical neuropsychology and ran the research training program for Southampton’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral degree. Throughout her academic career in the UK, Romola held substantive or honorary clinical positions with her local National Health Service Trust. Romola immigrated to Perth in 2007.
Since moving to Perth, she has continued her research in ageing and dementia, and continues to teach at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. She has been director of Postgraduate training in Clinical Psychology since 2012, teaches in clinical neuropsychology (particularly cognitive ageing and dementia) and research methods (e.g. systematic reviewing, psychometrics, and research ethics).
Her primary research focus is on ageing, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea and depression with a core feature of each the study of sleep disturbance and its impact on emotional and cognitive functioning. Her secondary research focus is on vulnerability, or resilience to negative affect in ageing.
Romola’s collaborations with Curtin include her research into the cognitive profile of Parkinson’s disease with ParkC, but extends to exploration of the relationship between pain and cognition in the Raine cohort with Leon Straker, Darren Beales, Anne Smith, and Peter O’Sullivan from Physiotherapy.View the Lifesapn Development Lab website >
David Putrino, Ph.D., P.T. I am a Physical Therapist with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I graduated as a Physical Therapist from Curtin University of Technology with First Class Honors in 2004, and was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Western Australia in 2008 for my work studying the neural control of reaching under the supervision of Soumya Ghosh. Clinically, I have worked with patients in hospitals and private practices in the US, UK, and Australia. As a neuroscientist, I have held academic positions studying computational neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and MIT with Emery Brown, and performing motor control and brain machine interface research at NYU with Esther Gardner and Bijan Pesaran.
I consider teaching to be an essential part of any faculty position. In Perth, Western Australia, I have held teaching faculty positions at Curtin University of Technology and Edith Cowan University, and was responsible for teaching neuroanatomy and neuropathology to hundreds of students over several years, as well as assisting in course development. View David Putrino’s profile >
John Long, PhD John Long is a PhD student within the Buzsaki Lab of the NYU Neuroscience Institute, New York University, Langone Medical Center.

View the Buzsaki Lab website >


Students

student names and project details

NAME ABOUT EMAIL
Leon Booth (Honours student) Leon is a fourth-year Psychology student supervised by Dr Andrea Loftus. Leon’s research examines the impact of transcranial direct-current stimulation over dorsal-lateral pre-frontal cortex on fine motor control in healthy older adults. If you are interested in Leon’s research visit the current research pages of this website.
Natalie Campbell (Masters of Counselling) Natalie is completing her Masters (Counselling) research in the Curtin Neuroscience Research Lab under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Dr Peta Dzidic. Natalie’s research examines the impact of tDCS on memory in healthy ageing and explores subjective experiences of memory decline. If you are interested in finding out more about Natalie’s research, please visit the current research pages of this website. natalie.campbell@postgrad.curtin.edu.au
Emily Corti Emily completed her honours research at Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory with ParkC in 2013, under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Associate Professor Natalie Gasson. Emily’s research examined the relationship between personality, actual memory and perceived memory in those affected by Parkinson’s Disease.
Emily is continuing her research career as a PhD student in the lab under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Associate Professor Natalie Gasson. Emily’s research examines if brain stimulation can be used to help restore normal neuronal activity in people with chronic lower back pain. If you are interested in Emily’s PhD research, please visit the current research section of this website.
emily.corti@postgrad.curtin.edu.au
Elise Duncan Elise is completing her Masters (Clinical) research in the Curtin Neuroscience Research Lab with ParkC. Elise’s research examines the relationship between executive functioning, quality of life and coping strategies in those affected by Parkinson’s Disease. Elise’s thesis is available here.
Paul Evans (PhD student) Paul completed his honours research Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory in 2013 under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus. Paul’s research examined the impact of transcranial direct-current stimulation over dorsal-lateral pre-frontal cortex on executive functioning in healthy older adults.
Paul’s thesis is available here, or visit the current research pages of this website. Paul is continuing his research career as a PhD student in the lab under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Dr Andrew Lavender. Paul’s research examines the perception of time and timing in healthy older adults and those with Parkinson’s Disease.
paul.evans@postgrad.curtin.edu.au
Richelle Jarvis-Spinks (Honours student) Richelle is a fourth-year physiotherapy student supervised by Dr Andrew Lavender. Richelle is conducting an honours research project examining the influence of a short period of moderate aerobic exercise on the adaptability of the motor cortex in healthy older adults. Richelle is using transcranial magnetic stimulation to assess cortical change post-exercise. If you are interested in finding out more about Richelle’s research visit the current research pages of this website.
Blake Lawrence (PhD student) Blake completed his honours research at Curtin’s Neuroscience Research Laboratory with ParkC in 2013, under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Associate Professor Natalie Gasson. Blake’s research examined the relationship between depression, activities of daily living and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s Disease.
Blake has now commenced a PhD. Blake is continuing his research career as a PhD student in the laboratory under the supervision of Dr Andrea Loftus and Associate Professor Natalie Gasson. Blake’s research examines cognition in Parkinson’s Disease.
blake.lawrence@postgrad.curtin.edu.au
Charlotte Poon (Honours student) Charlotte is a fourth-year physiotherapy student supervised by Dr Andrew Lavender. Charlotte’s honours project focuses on the effect of moderate aerobic exercise on the ability of the motor cortex to adapt, which is indicative of learning. Charlotte is using transcranial magnetic stimulation to determine the impact of exercise. If you are interested in finding out more about Charlotte’s research visit the current research pages of this website.
Hayley Riddle Hayley has completed her honours research in the Curtin Neuroscience Research Lab. Hayley’s research examines the relationship between motor control and executive functioning in healthy older adults. Hayley’s thesis is available here.
Ozgur Yalcin Ozgur has completed his honours research in the Curtin Neuroscience Research Lab. Ozgur’s research examines the impact of transcranial direct-current stimulation over dorsal-lateral pre-frontal cortex on self-control in healthy young adults. Ozgur’s thesis is available here.