Professor Pankaj Sah

Institute Director

Queensland Brain Institute
pankaj.sah@uq.edu.au
+61 7 334 66311
+61 7 334 66376

Overview

Professor Pankaj Sah is Director of the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland (UQ). He is renowned for his work in understanding the neural circuitry of the amygdala, an area of the brain that plays a central role in learning and memory formation. Dysfunction of the amygdala leads to a host of anxiety-related disorders. His laboratory uses a combination of molecular tools, electrophysiology, anatomical reconstruction, calcium imaging and behavioural studies to examine the electrophysiological signatures of different brain regions and their impact on disease. Recently, his laboratory has been working with patients undergoing electrode implantation for deep brain stimulation, which is used to treat a variety of disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome and essential tremor. Professor Sah trained in medicine at The University of New South Wales and, after completing his internship, gained a PhD from the Australian National University. Following postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco, and UQ, he established his own laboratory at the University of Newcastle in 1994. He then joined the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University as a group leader in 1997. He was recruited to QBI as a founding member in 2003, and has been Director since July 2015. Professor Sah has published over 110 papers in international peer-reviewed journals. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Nature Partner Journal npj Science of Learning, the first journal to bring together the findings of neuroscientists, psychologists, and education researchers to understand how the brain learns.

Research Impacts

Prof Sah's major interest has been in understanding the neural circuits that underpin learning and memory formation working on two regions that have well defined roles in learning: the hippocampus and amygdala. He have made major contributions to both these areas and pioneered whole-cell recordings in acute brain slices and provided the first biophysical characterisation of excitatory glutamatergic synapses in the mammalian brain (e.g. Hestrin et. al. 1990, J. Physiol. 422:203; Sah, et al. 1989 Science, 246:815). These synapses are involved in all activity in the central nervous system and our results are cited in major neuroscience textbooks (e.g. Kandel and Schwartz, Principles of Neural Science). Although the hippocampus plays a role in many forms of learning, linking hippocampal activity to specific behaviours has proven difficult. He therefore decided to study the amygdala, a region of the brain well known to play a key role in a very specific form of learning: fear conditioning. His laboratory has been a leader in studying the amygdala and provided the first characterisation of the properties of neurons in this structure (e.g. Faber et al., 2001 J. Neurophysiol. 85:714; Faber & Sah 2002, J. Neurosci. 22:1618). revealing a number of novel and unexpected properties of central synapses and changed thinking about the functional roles of different synapses. For example, it was thought that learning only engaged synaptic plasticity at excitatory synapses on pyramidal neurons. His group showed that in the amygdala a unique form of plasticity also occurs in interneurons (Mahanty & Sah 1998, Nature 394:683) and have recently shown that this plasticity is restricted to a single class of interneuron (Polepalli et al. 2010, J Neurosci. 30:14619). Much of his group's work in this area formed the basis of an influential review (Sah et al. 2003, Physiological Reviews 83: 803). In 2005, my laboratory also discovered that small conductance calcium-activated potassium channels, known to set the discharge properties of central neurons, are also present at excitatory synapses where their modulation plays a key role in setting the strength of synaptic connections and in synaptic plasticity (Faber et al. 2005, Nature Neurosci 8:635). Moreover, these channels are modulated by the hormone noradrenaline, explaining how memory formation may be affected by stressful stimuli (Faber et al. 2008, J Neurosci. 28:10803). Finally, interneurons in the adult brain were though to only be inhibitory. The Sah laboratory demonstrated that a particular type of interneuron in the amygdala is excitatory (Woodruff et al. 2006, J. Neurosci. 26:11881) overturning a long-standing dogma in the field. Interneurons in the amygdala have long been known to play an important role in amygdala-dependent learning. These effects were thought to result from the inhibitory actions of interneurons on the output neurons of the amygdala. His group's results are showing that these cells play a central and unexpected role in information processing and are redefining our understanding of the function that interneurons play in intrinsic circuits in the amygdala.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Australian National University
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, University of New South Wales
  • Bachelor of Medical Science, University of New South Wales

Publications

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Grants

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Supervision

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Publications

Journal Article

Conference Publication

  • Windels, F., Yan, S., Stratton, P., Crane, J. and Sah, P. (2015). Cortical gating of sensory responses in the amygdala. In: Special Issue: 25th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Neurochemistry jointly with the 13th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry in conjunction with the 35th Meeting of the Australasian Neuroscience Society. 25th Biennial Meeting of the International-Society-for-Neurochemistry Jointly with the 13th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific-Society-for-Neurochemistry in Conjunction with the 35th Meeting of the Australasian-Neuroscience-Society, Cairns, QLD Australia, (241-241). 23-27 august 2015. doi:10.1111/jnc.13188

  • Hunt, S. and Sah, P. (2015). Intrinsic circuitry of the lateral central amygdala. In: Special Issue: 25th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Neurochemistry Jointly with the 13th Meeting of the Asian Pacific Society for Neurochemistry in Conjunction with the 35th Meeting of the Australasian Neuroscience Society. 25th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Neurochemistry Jointly with the 13th Meeting of the Asian Pacific Society for Neurochemistry in Conjunction with the 35th Meeting of the Australasian Neuroscience Society, Cairns, QLD Australia, (157-157). 23-27 August 2015. doi:10.1111/jnc.13188

  • Perumal, M. B., Sullivan, R. and Sah, P. (2015). Reverberating cell assemblies in the amygdala. In: 25th Biennial Meeting of the International-Society-for-Neurochemistry Jointly with the 13th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific-Society-for-Neurochemistry in Conjunction with the 35th Meeting of the Australasian-Neuroscience-Society, Cairns, Australia, (300-301). Aug 23-27, 2015. doi:10.1111/jnc.13189

  • Sah, Pankaj (2012). Excitatory and inhibitory circuits in the basolateral amygdala. In: Abstracts to the 19th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. 19th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience (ISDN), Mumbai India, (634-634). 11-14 January 2012. doi:10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2012.10.085

  • Sullivan, R. K. P., Spampanato, J. and Sah, P. (2011). Kidney chloride regulation in the mouse CNS. In: Australian Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting. Australian Neuroscience Society (ANS) 31st Annual Conference, Aukland New Zealand, (). 30 January - 3 February 2011.

  • Sah, P (2010). NMDA receptors in the amygdala: a heterogeneity of form and function. In: JOURNAL OF PHYSIOLOGICAL SCIENCES. Unknown, Unknown, (S8-S8). Unknown.

  • Sah, P (2010). Recent advances in the role of the amygdala in memory storage, fear and anxiety. In: x, x, (S2-S2). x.

  • Gunnersen, JM, Kim, MH, Fuller, SJ, De, SM, Barwood, JM, Hammond, VE, Britto, JM, Mateos, JM, Sonderegger, P, Faber, ES, Sah, P and Tan, SS (2009). Dendritic Branching and Excitatory Connectivity: Regulation by Seizure-Related Gene 6. In: Journal of Neurochemistry. 22nd Biennial Meeting of the International-Society-of-Neurochemistry/Asian-Pacific-Society-for-Neurochemistry, Busan South Korea, (161-161). Aug 23-29, 2009.

  • Woodruff, A., Polepalli, J., Yanagawa, Y. and Sah, P. (2008). Interneurons in the basolateral amygdala: A diversity of form and function. In: Abstracts of the Eighth Biennial Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry. Eighth Biennial Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry, Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China, (6-6). 23-26 June 2008. doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2008.05367.x

  • Esmaeili, Abolghasem, Lynch, Joe and Sah, Pankaj (2006). Distribution and function of GABA(A) receptor subunits in the amygdala. In: Neuroscience Research: Abstracts for the 29th Annual Meeting of the Japan Neuroscience Society (Neuroscience2006). The 29th Annual Meeting of the Japan Neuroscience Society - (Neuroscience2006), Kyoto, Japan, (S211-S211). 19-21 July 2006. doi:10.1016/j.neures.2006.04.004

  • Woodruff, A.R. and Sah, P. (2004). A chemically and electrically connected network of interneurons regulates principal neuron activity in the basolateral amygdala. In: Paul Martin, Proceedings of the Australian Neuroscience Meeting. Australian Neuroscience Society 24th Annual Meeting, Melbourne Convention Centre, (68-68). 27-30 January.

  • Faber, E.S.L. and Sah, P. (2004). Calcium and voltage dependent potassium currents contribute to spike frequency adaptations in lateral amygdala neurons. In: Paull Martin, Proceedings of the Australian Neuroscience Meeting. Australian Neuroscience Society 24th Annual Meeting, Melbourne Convention Centre, (66-66). 27-30 January.

  • Coulson, E., Sah, P., May, L. M., Morley, S. N. and Bartlett, P. F. (2004). Stimulation of Girk channel activity by P75 neurotrophin receptor (p 75NTR) promotes neuronal death. In: Society for Neuroscience 34th Annual Meeting, San Diego, (). 23-27 October, 2004.

  • Callister, RJ, Schofield, PR and Sah, P (1999). Use of murine mutants to study glycine receptor function. In: Australian-Neuroscience-Society Symposium on GABA and Glycine Receptors, Hobart Australia, (929-931). Jan-Feb -, 1999. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1681.1999.03148.x

  • Morgan, B, Callister, R, Handford, C, Walker, S, Sah, P and Schofield, P (1999). Molecular studies of synaptic neurotran fission: Development of transgenic animal models. In: , , (S88-S88). .

  • Margrie, TW, Rostas, JAP and Sah, P (1997). NMDA receptor independent long-term potentiation in the avian hippocampus. In: , , (S66-S66). .

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

Completed Supervision