Dr Michael Muniak

Research Officer

Conjoint/Adjunct Role(s)

Conjoint Lecturer, St Vincent’s Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney

I was raised in the hinterlands of northern Michigan, USA, where I developed a deep appreciation for the natural world.  In my teenage years, I became particularly fascinated with the brain, ever curious about how this organ could govern so much of our daily reality through perception, thought, and action.  Pursuing this interest, I moved to Baltimore to begin undergraduate studies in Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, graduating with honours in 2005. 

I remained at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for an additional six years, completing my PhD in the Department of Neuroscience under the mentorship of Prof David Ryugo.  Immediately after completing my dissertation, I followed Prof Ryugo in his move to the Antipodes, joining his laboratory at the Garvan Institute.

I am fascinated by the brain’s remarkable ability to sift through a vast array of information it receives about the environment, encoded by sequences of neural “spikes”, to construct the sense of a coherent and stable reality.  My research focuses on dissecting the neural pathways—the “wiring diagram” of the brain—that transmit information about sound.  How are these auditory pathways, and their targets, organised with respect to sensory parameters, such as sound frequency or intensity?  How does this organisation facilitate sensory processing?  Most importantly, what happens to these pathways when sensory input becomes disrupted with hearing loss? 

Our working hypothesis is that abnormalities in the central auditory system underlie some of the major symptoms of hearing loss, such as tinnitus and difficulty comprehending speech in noisy backgrounds.  By understanding the nature of such changes in the brain, we may be able to improve the strategy and design of future generations of hearing aids.

My relationship with sound does not end at the lab bench.  I have been engaged with music in its many forms throughout my life. For seven years I was a curator (and occasional performer) in the world-renowned High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music in Baltimore.  I also maintain a formidable record collection (including an ever-growing wall of vinyl), with selections that tend towards the cultural fringe or ‘underground’.  Hearing is an incredibly important part of my life, thus motivating me to better understand how it all works.

Research Interests

Sensory Neurobiology
Functional Neuroanatomy
Auditory Processing
Hearing Loss
Synaptic Plasticity

Awards and Honours

2017 – ARO Postdoctoral Fellow Travel Award, Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 40th MidWinter Meeting, Baltimore MD
2016 – Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Travel Award, Science at the Shine Dome, Australian Academy of Science
2015 – Sensory Neuroscience Prize: Early Career Researcher, 6th Sensory Neuroscience Symposium, Western Sydney University
2013 – Best Oral Presentation, 2nd Annual Postdoc Symposium, Garvan Institute
2005 – General and Departmental Honors, Johns Hopkins University
2005 – Phi Beta Kappa, National Honor Society
2001-05 – Deans List, Johns Hopkins University
2003-04 – Becker Family Fund Scholar, Johns Hopkins University


2011 – PhD, Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, USA
2005 – BA, Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Selected Publications

Milinkeviciute G, Muniak MA, Ryugo DK (2016) Descending projections from the inferior colliculus to the dorsal cochlear nucleus are excitatory. Journal of Comparative Neurology 525(4):773.93.

Connelly CJ, Ryugo DK, Muniak MA (2016) The effect of progressive hearing loss on the morphology of endbulbs of Held and bushy cells. Hearing Research 343:14-33.

Muniak MA, Connelly CJ, Suthakar K, Milinkeviciute G, Ayeni FE, Ryugo DK (2015) Central projections of spiral ganglion neurons.  In: Dabdoub A, Fritzsch B, Popper AN, Fay RR, eds.  Springer Handbook of Auditory Research: The Primary Auditory Neurons of the Mammalian Cochlea.  Springer: New York.

Muniak MA, Ryugo DK (2014) Tonotopic organization of vertical cells in the dorsal cochlear nucleus of the CBA/J mouse. Journal of Comparative Neurology 522(4):937-49.

Muniak MA, Connelly CJ, Tirko NN, O'Neil JN, Ryugo DK (2013) Synaptic organization and plasticity in the auditory system of the deaf white cat.  In: Kral A, Popper AN, Fay RR, eds.  Springer Handbook of Auditory Research: Deafness.  Springer: New York.

Muniak MA, Rivas A, Montey KL, May BJ, Francis HW, Ryugo DK (2013) 3D Model of Frequency Representation in the Cochlear Nucleus of the CBA/J Mouse. Journal of Comparative Neurology 521(7):1510-32.

Muniak MA, Mayko ZM, Ryugo DK, Portfors CV (2012) Preparation of an awake mouse for recording neural responses and injecting tracers. Journal of Visualized Experiments (64):e3755.

Nayagam BA, Muniak MA, Ryugo DK (2011) The spiral ganglion: Connecting the peripheral and central auditory systems. Hearing Research 278(1-2):2-20.

Muniak MA, Ray S, Hsiao SS, Dammann JF, Bensmaia SJ (2007) The neural coding of stimulus intensity: linking the population response of mechanoreceptive afferents with psychophysical behavior. Journal of Neuroscience 27(43):11687-99. 

Dr Michael Muniak