In the Motor Recovery Laboratory, we study movement in health and after injury to the central nervous system. Our focus is the corticospinal system, which connects motor cortex to the spinal cord because this system is key for skilled movement in health. In addition, injury to the corticospinal system is largely responsible for loss of function after paralyzing injury. We attempt to repair brain-spinal cord connections using activity-based therapies, including electrical stimulation and motor training. The approach capitalizes on the fact that most brain and spinal cord injuries preserve some corticospinal connections. Also, corticospinal connections are highly activity-dependent and can be strengthened with endogenous activity (practice) or exogenous activity (electrical stimulation). We use a combination of anatomical, behavioral, and electrophysiological techniques to address the roles of injury and activity in promoting plasticity and recovery. We also study how plasticity of the motor systems changes with age and how developmental plasticity can be leveraged to promote recovery after injury. The animal models of disease we employ are used to improve our understanding of injury and therapy. Our ultimate goal is to improve motor function in people with brain and spinal cord injury. 

Tracing forelimb and hindlimb area in the internal capsule.

A. Schematic: AAV1-CB7.CI.eGFP (AAV-eGFP) was injected into forelimb area (FL) of the left motor cortex and hindlimb area (HL) of the right, and AAV1-CAG.tdtomato (AAV-tdTomato) was injected into HL of the left motor cortex and FL of the right.

B. Brains were sectioned coronally 3 weeks after AAVs injection. The same areas in both hemispheres were labeled complementarily with different fluorescent proteins-eGFP and tdTomato. Box areas including internal capsule are shown enlarged. Internal capsules are marked with yellow dashed line in the lower panel. Forelimb and hindlimb area of the right internal capsule are labeled with eGFP and tdTomato respectively (right). In the contrast, forelimb and hindlimb area of the left internal capsule are labeled with tdTomato and eGFP respectively (left).

Physiological mapping and photothrombotic lesion of internal capsule. 

1. Intracortical sharp micro-electrodes were used to electrically stimulate the internal capsule region of the subcortical areas. Forelimb area is represented in green and hindlimb areas in red bubbles. The size of the bubbles are proportional to the excitability of the areas mapped.

2. The hotspot identified by mapping the forelimb area using electrophysiological tool in Fig.1 is photothrombotically lesioned using the combination of photosensitive dye rose bengal and laser irradiation at 520nm. A brain section with the lesion is shown with TTC staining (A) and cresyl violate staining (B). Arrows are pointed at the site of lesion.

This two pronged approach allows our researchers to capture a more complete picture than ever of the full scope of patients living with CP.  Our registry offers a solid platform for multidisciplinary longitudinal research focused on outcomes-related long term care.  With ten to fifteen years of data, it is now possible to study cerebral palsy across the life span.