About Dr Melissa Farnham

I am a cardiovascular neuroscientist interested in what goes wrong in the brain to result in cardiovascular disease. Specifically I focus on peptides and their receptors in cardiovascular, autonomic, centres of the brain.

I am a basic scientist with a skill set that spans multiple fields. My passion lies in whole system, in vivo, physiology and pharmacology but I have expertise in immunohistochemistry, fluorescence and confocal microscopy, in situ hybridisation, as well as models of hypertension and sleep apnoea.

I am the head of the Cardiovascular Neuroscience Group based the Heart Research Institute. In my seminal 2008 paper, I discovered that the excitatory peptide called PACAP had long-lasting sympathoexcitatory effects without any effect on blood pressure; a rare instance of a sympathoexcitatory response, independent of blood pressure changes. In 2012 my student and I found that the unusual mismatch of responses was due to differential activation of PACAP receptors in the spinal cord. This paper spear-headed my current research into sleep apnoea and epilepsy, producing 2 important studies which highlight PACAP as an important protective modulator of sympathetic activity during seizure (2 senior author manuscripts in J Neuroscience). I have received >$1millon of competitive grant project and salary support, including an ARC DECRA and an NHMRC project grant, to investigate roles of PACAP in central cardiovascular control, highlighting the importance and potential of my research. My capacity to successfully drive several projects concurrently, even with career disruptions, is evidenced by my peer-reviewed works and 1 book. I have co-supervised PhD and honours students to on-time completion. My most recent discovery that PACAP drives the persistent sympathoexcitation in a model of sleep apnoea is allowing new scientific directions, and clinical collaborations.
I maintain productive collaborations with scientists at the University of Calgary, Canada, HRI and the Charles Perkins Centre.
My innovative techniques, coupled with comprehensive investigations into important cardiovascular questions, provide me the opportunity to further develop an area of research that is unique in Australia. This is being validated by the increasing calibre of journals I am publishing in. Invitations to speak at international meetings (paid), and write reviews and books, speak to my expertise and leadership within the field; leadership also recognised by a Young Achiever award and a Brown

Selected publications

• Farnham MMJ, Li Q. Goodchild AK, Pilowsky PM (2008) PACAP is expressed in sympathoexcitatory C1 neurons of the brainstem and increases sympathetic nerve activity in vivo. Am J Physiol 294:R1304-1311.
• Farnham MMJ, Inglott MA, Pilowsky PM (2011). Intrathecal PACAP-38 causes increases in sympathetic nerve activity and heart rate but not blood pressure in the spontaneously hypertensive rat. Am J Physiol 300:H214-22
• Inglott MA, Lerner, E, Pilowsky PM, Farnham MMJ (2012) Activation of PAC1 and VPAC receptor subtypes elicits differential physiological responses from sympathetic preganglionic neurons in the anaesthetised rat. Br J Pharmacol 167:1089-98
• Farnham MMJ, Lung MSY, Tallapragada VJ, Pilowsky PM (2012) PACAP causes PAC1/VPAC2 receptor mediated hypertension and sympathoexcitation in normal and hypertensive rat. Am J Physiol 303:H9210-7
• Bhandare A, Mohammed S, Pilowsky PM, Farnham MMJ (2015) Antagonism of PACAP or microglia function worsens the cardiovascular consequences of kainic acid induced seizures in rats. J Neurosci 35: 2191 - 2199
• Farnham MMJ, O'Connor ET, Wilson RJA and Pilowsky PM (2015) Surgical preparation of mice for recording cardiorespiratory parameters in vivo. J Neurosci Meth 248: 41-45
• Bhandare AM, Kapoor K, Pilowsky PM, Farnham MMJ (2016) Seizure induced sympathoexcitation is caused by activation of glutamatergic receptors in RVLM that also causes proarrythmogenic changes mediated by PACAP and microglia in rats. J Neurosci 36(2):506-517
• Kim SJ, Pilowsky PM and Farnham MMJ (2016) Intrathecal intermittent orexin-A causes prolonged sympathetic facilitation and sensitizes the peripheral chemoreceptor response to hypoxia in rat. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 358: 492-501.
• Roy A, Farnham MMJ, Derekhshan F, Pilowsky PM and Wilson RJA (2018) Acute intermittent hypoxia with concurrent hypercapnia evokes a P2X and TRPV1 receptor dependent sensory LTF in naive carotid bodies. J Physiol 596:3149-3169
• Kakall ZM, Pilowsky PM and Farnham MMJ (2018) PACAP(6-38) or kynurenate microinjections into the RVLM prevent development of sympathetic long-term facilitation following acute intermittent hypoxia. Am J Physiol 314: H563-H572