Dr Sarah Etherington
BSc.Hons (Neuroscience), PhD

Senior Lecturer in Physiology

About me

I completed a Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience) with First Class Honours at The University of Western Australia and went on to complete a PhD in neuroscience within the physiology department at UWA in 2006.  From 2007-2008, I worked as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Professor Stephen Williams’ laboratory at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge UK.  I came to Murdoch University in late 2008, and am now a Senior Lecturer in Physiology in the School of Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences.


Teaching area

My main teaching contribution is as the unit coordinator for BMS206 (Biomedical Physiology).  I also contribute to other physiology units within the Biomedical Science and pre-clinical Veterinary Science programs (BMS107, VET271).

I have a particular interest in training research students.  My Honours students, past and present are:

Sophia Soo Fun FOH (2010) Anatomical correlates of synaptic properties in the developing visual cortex. Supervisor: Dr Sarah Etherington

Huey Sian YAP (2010-2011).  Characterising the role of nerve growth factor in nociception during osteoarthritis.  Supervisors:  Dr Sarah Etherington, Dr Julia Inglis (UWA).

Ivan Hee Kean HONG (2010-2011). Neuromuscular junction development in the western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus). Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, Dr Natalie Warburton (Murdoch), Dr Nahiid Stephens (Murdoch)

Caleb Wei Qi LEOW (2011). Developmental changes in the synaptic dynamics in rats’ visual cortex around postnatal eye opening. Supervisor: Dr Sarah Etherington

Carmen Jing Wen WONG (2011-2012). An investigation into hindlimb muscle populations with cifferent rates of synapse maturation in the western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus). Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, Dr Natalie Warburton (Murdoch), Dr Nahiid Stephens (Murdoch)

Maria WENNER (2012). Investigation of the interaction between α1-adrenoceptors and nociceptive signalling in neuronal cell cultures.  Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, Prof Peter Drummond (Murdoch), A/Prof Ian Mullaney (Murdoch).

Wilford Wei Qiang GOH (2012) In-vitro conditioning of murine naive B lymphocytes: Directing differentiation towards IgA-secreting plasma cells. Supervisors: Dr Phil Stumbles (Murdoch), E/Prof John Penhale (Murdoch), Dr Sarah Etherington .

Simone NAIDOO (2012). Assessing intracellular calcium levels in HEK cells expressing NCX binding peptides. Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, Adj/A/Prof Bruno Meloni (ANRI)

Anthony BUZZAI (2013). The role of small leucine rich proteins in ostoblast and ostoclast cells. Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, Dr Joshua Lewise (SCGH), Prof Richard Prince (SCGH)

Helena MORTON (2014). Novel biomarkers of chronic kidney disease in elderly women. Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, A/Prof Wai H Lim (UWA, SCGH), Dr Joshua Lewis (UWA, SCGH), Professor Richard Prince (UWA, SCGH)

Bhedita SEEWOO (2016). Resting state fMRI study of brain activation using rTMS in rats. Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington, A/Prof Jenny Rodger (UWA), Dr Kirk Feindel (CMCA)

Liam HILL (2016).  Development of a core anatomy and physiology curriculum for chiropractic. Supervisors: Dr Amanda Meyer (Murdoch), Dr Sarah Etherington

Research areas

My main research interest is the function of the brain and spinal cord.  In particular, I am interested in mechanisms controlling the strength of synaptic connections, the sites at which signals are exchanged between different nerve cells. Recent work has focused on the early postnatal development of signaling at synapses in mammalian visual cortex, with the aim of understanding how the developing brain processes visual information. Techniques include optical monitoring of synaptic vesicle recycling with fluorescent dyes and multi-site patch clamp recording.

I also have an interest in the scholarship of undergraduate physiology education.


Current projects

My current research focus is the effects of pulsed magnetic fields on brain function. Pulsed magnetic fields (e.g. transcranial magnetic stimulation) have long been used as a treatment for disorders of human brain function (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, depression). Surprisingly, the mechanisms by which pulsed magnetic fields exert their clinical benefits on brain tissue remain poorly understood. I am involved in a cross-institutional collaboration to document the specific effects of pulsed magnetic fields on nerve cells.  Work at Murdoch has used patch clamp electrophysiology to assess how pulsed magnetic fields affect the electrical excitability of nerve cells, and metabolomics to identify changes in chemical signalling occurring in neural networks in response to magnetic fields. We are currently using fMRI technology to continue this path of investigation.

Collaborators: A/Prof Jennifer Rodger (UWA),  A/Prof Ian Mullaney (Murdoch), Dr Garth Maker (Murdoch), Dr Kirk Feindel (UWA)

Awards and grants

  • Office for Learning and Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning 2012
  • Vice Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence in Enhancing Learning 2012
  • Nominated for Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence 2011 & 2012
  •  McCusker Charitable Foundation Early Career Researcher Support. Mapping information flow through the developing cortex. S Etherington, S Williams, J Rodger. (March 2011)
  • McCusker Charitable Foundation Early Career Researcher Support. Neuromuscular junction development in Australian marsupials.  N Warburton, S Etherington (March 2011)
  •  ANZCA Project Grant. Mechanism of adrenergic hyperalgesia in the partial sciatic nerve ligation model of neuropathic pain. P Finch, P Drummond, J Inglis, S Etherington, S Williams (October 2010)


Events and speaking engagements

Teaching and Learning Forum (WA), Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia (2013). “Looking beyond the laboratory: Encouraging global perspective in a content-driven biology unit”.

University of the Third Age U3A (UWA), Perth, Western Australia (2012). “Human brains: The biological final frontier”.

Bone and Vascular Research Group Seminar Series (2012), School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. “And there was light: Communication within the visual cortex around the time of postnatal eye opening”.

Neurobiology Seminar Series (2010), School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. “And there was light: Maturation of synaptic dynamics in visual cortex around the time of postnatal eye opening”.

Division of Neurobiology Seminar (2006), Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom.  Non-Hebbian long-term depression at the somatic neuromuscular junction.

Neurobiology Seminar Series (2006), Zoology, School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. Muscle-derived signals in the regulation of transmitter release from motor nerve terminals.

John Curtin School of Medical Research Neuroscience Seminar Series (2005), Australian National University, Canberra, Australia Capitol Territory. A role for skeletal muscle dihydropyridine receptors in retrograde signalling and depression of quantal transmission at the neuromuscular junction.

25th Annual Meeting of the Australian Neuroscience Society (2005), 25th Annual Meeting of the Australian Neuroscience Society, Perth, Western Australia. Nitric oxide dependent depression of quantal release at the neuromuscular junction; involvement of both cGMP and peroxynitrite in a retrograde signalling pathway.


Professional and community service

Symposium for Western Australian Neuroscience organising committee, 2011-present.

Teaching & Learning Forum organising committee, 2011-2012.

Faculty member, Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience, Stradbroke Island, Queensland, 2010.

Doctoral and masters supervisions

Julie GILMORE (2011-). Mutation specific changes in dystrophic tissue: The importance of dystrophin isoforms in brain development .  Supervisors: Dr Sarah Etherington (Murdoch), Prof Steve Wilton (ANRI), A/Prof Martin Cake (Murdoch).

Ianthe PITOUT (2012-). Application of antisense oligomers (AOs) to modifiers of the Survival motor neuron 2 (SMN2) gene in order to reduce the severity of Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).   Supervisors: Prof Sue Fletcher (Murdoch)Prof Steve Wilton (Murdoch), Dr Sarah Etherington (Murdoch),

Sasha DORRON (2016-). An exploration of pain sensitivity and low back pain presentations, including responses to spinal manipulative therapy. Supervisors: Assoc Prof Bruce Walker (Murdoch), Adjunct Prof Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde (Murdoch), Dr Sarah Etherington (Murdoch).

Bhedita Jaya SEEWOO (2017-) Using MRI for in-vivo study of the effects of low-intensity repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on brain activity and structure in rodents. Supervisors: Assoc Prof Jennifer Rodger (UWA), Dr Kirk Feindel (UWA), Dr Sarah Etherington (Murdoch).



  • Hong, I., Etherington, S., (2011),Neuromuscular Junction,In: Encyclopaedia of Life Sciences, John Wiley & Sons, pages 1 to 10.
  • Etherington, S., Atkinson, S., Stuart, G., Williams, S., (2010),Synaptic Integration,In: Encyclopaedia of Life Sciences, John Wiley & Sons, pages to.


  • Hong, I., Garrett, A., Maker, G., Mullaney, I., Rodger, J., Etherington, S., (2018), Repetitive low intensity magnetic field stimulation in a neuronal cell line: a metabolomics study, PeerJ, 2018, 3, pages 4501 -.
  • Seewoo, B., Etherington, S., Feindel, K., Rodger, J., (2018), Combined rTMS/fMRI Studies: An Overlooked Resource in Animal Models, Frontiers in neuroscience, 12, 180, pages -.
  • Meyer, A., Meyer, A., Etherington, S., Leboeuf-Yde, C., (2017), Unravelling functional neurology: a scoping review of theories and clinical applications in a context of chiropractic manual therapy, Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, 25, 19, pages 1 - 23.
  • Tang, A., Hong, I., Boddington, L., Garrett, A., Etherington, S., Reynolds, J., Rodger, J., (2016), Low-intensity repetitive magnetic stimulation lowers action potential threshold and increases spike firing in layer 5 pyramidal neurons in vitro, Neuroscience, 335, , pages 64 - 71.
  • Etherington, S., Hong, I., Wong, C., Stephens, N., Warburton, N., (2016), Heterochronic neuromuscular junction development in an Australian marsupial (Macropus fuliginosus), Journal of Zoology, 300, 1, pages 27 - 35.
  • Etherington, S., (2014), But science is international! Finding time and space to encourage intercultural learning in a content-driven physiology unit, Advances in Physiology Education, 38, 2, pages 145 - 154.
  • Etherington, S., Johnstone, V., Everett, A., (2014), Modulation of Synaptic Vesicle Exocytosis in Muscle-Dependent Long-Term Depression at the Amphibian Neuromuscular Junction, PLoS One, 9, 1, pages 0 - 0.
  • Etherington, S., Williams, S., (2011), Postnatal development of intrinsic and synaptic properties transforms signaling in the layer 5 excitatory neural network of the visual cortex, The Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 26, pages 9526 - 9537.
  • Etherington, S., Everett, A., (2004), Postsynaptic production of nitric oxide implicated in long-term depression at the mature amphibian (Bufo marinus) neuromuscular junction., Journal of Physiology (London), 559, , pages 507 - 517.