Our research team is investigating the effects of cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) and how recovery can be optimized. A primary focus of this work on the functional consequences of cervical SCI (in particular how breathing and upper extremity (arm) function is impaired) and what potential there is for progressive, spontaneous functional recovery – or functional ‘plasticity’. We are also developing and testing strategies for promoting beneficial plasticity and recovery following cervical SCI.
Cervical Spinal Cord Injury
  Using a range of neuroanatomical, neurophysiological and behavioural approaches, our research has helped to define the neural circuitry in the normal (uninjured) spinal cord, how this circuitry is affected by spinal cord injury and how treatments can be used to promote repair. A particular focus of our research has been on the role of spinal interneurons in mediating normal motor function, and spontaneous or therapeutically enhanced functional plasticity following spinal cord injury. Several studies have shown that spinal interneurons are involved with spontaneous reorganization of neuronal circuitry, which can provide new anatomical pathways capable of facilitating functional recovery. These interneurons – interspersed throughout spinal cord – can receive input from neurons in the brain and then themselves make contact with neurons below the spinal cord injury. Thus, they can relay information from the brain, around the injury, to neurons below the injury that control the muscles. While this remodeling of connections can occur spontaneously, it may also be enhanced by some developing therapeutic strategies (see also the recent TED talk by  Gregoire Courtine ). While there is a growing appreciation among scientists and clinicians that spinal interneurons may be essential to plasticity and recovery after spinal cord injury, little is known about their distribution or how they aid functional improvement.          While there a number of research laboratories investigating neuroplasticity after spinal cord injury, and the number continues to grow, little effort has been made to investigate changes that occur above the spinal cord in the brain and brainstem (supraspinal regions). Our research team is now investigating spontaneous functional and anatomical changes that may arise within supraspinal regions following a cervical spinal cord injury.    While cortical plasticity following SCI is a rapidly growing area of research, much less is known about whether such potential also exists in brainstem regions. Using combined anatomical and functional techniques, we have begun characterizing functional reorganization in the medulla. In particular, I am examining alterations in the activity of respiratory neurons in the medulla following cervical SCI and assessing how such changes may affect the potential for recovery. 
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