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John Houle

John Houle, PhD


Department: Neurobiology & Anatomy


  • PhD - Purdue University
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship - University of Saskatchewan
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship - University of Florida

John Houle, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine, and director of the Spinal Cord Research Center.

Prior to coming to Drexel, he taught at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), also serving as the director of the Division of Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology and the Neuroscience Research Core Facilty at UAMS.

Research Overview

Lab Members

Dr. Megan Detloff

Graduate students:
Rahul Sachdeva
Catherine Theisen
Kaitlin Ferrell

Research assistants:
Theresa Connors
Scarlett Austin
Daniel Quiros-Molina
Danielle Kulich

Research Interests

Neurotransplantation strategies to promote structural and functional recovery after spinal cord injury


Dr. Houle has a longstanding interest in spinal cord injury and the potential to promote structural and functional repair in acute and chronic injury situations. It is important to understand that a spinal cord injury is an evolving condition where for weeks to months after injury there continues to be change/modulation of the cellular and molecular components affected directly or indirectly by the injury.  These changes often are most prominent at the site of injury but it is critical that we also understand how cells/tissues remote to the injury are affected.  An example would be the effect of spinal cord injury on neurons in the brain that normally transfer information through axon pathways that have been damaged.  The response to injury by neurons in the brain may include cell atrophy, cell death, change in gene expression, retraction of the damaged axonal process or an attempt to regrow the damaged axonal process. 

Research in the laboratory is designed to examine multiple aspects of the neuronal and glial cell response to spinal cord injury with the intent of designing a combinatorial treatment strategy for regeneration leading to functional recovery.  To accomplish this difficult task, the lab uses a variety of approaches, including:

  1. Neurotransplantation to provide a substratum that will support the regrowth of injured axons and which may provide a source of precursor cells to form new neurons and glial cells, replacing those lost after spinal cord injury;
  2. Treatment with neurotrophic and/or growth factors to provide essential molecules for cell survival and for initiating and maintaining axonal growth;
  3. Modulation of glial scar tissue and associated extracellular matrix to reduce the negative features of what has been characterized as a structural and chemical barrier to axonal growth;
  4. Exercise of injured limbs in the attempt to maintain joint fluidity and muscle strength and to re-train regions of the spinal cord that have been separated from descending input from the brain.  There is strong evidence of activity-dependent plasticity within the brain and spinal cord after exercise, and we are especially interested in applying physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine techniques to determine if enhanced spinal cord plasticity will translate into greater behavioral recovery. As more information is gathered and placed into the puzzle, our understanding of the sequence of steps to be followed to promote recovery of function will become clearer.

Research techniques used in the laboratory range from gross anatomical examination to quantifying gene expression of single neurons.  A typical experiment will include animal surgery, transplantation, physical therapy, a battery of behavioral analyses, preparation of tissue samples for light microscopy and immunocytochemical detection of specific cell types or tissue components, isolation of specific cells by laser micro dissection for extraction of RNA for analysis of gene expression by quantitative PCR, isolation of proteins for analysis of cell signaling by Western Blot or multiplex arrays. 

Dr. Houle has received funding as the principal investigator (PI) from the NIH (both RO1 and PO1 grants), Paralyzed Veteran’s of America, The Daniel Heumann Spinal Cord Fund, and the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.  His primary NIH grant has been funded continually since 1988. In 2004, Dr. Houle was awarded a Jacob Javits Investigator Award for a distinguished record in neurological science research. He is the PI of the current program project entitled Spinal Cord Injury, Plasticity and Transplant-Mediated Repair.

Dr. Houle has authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications and has served as an ad hoc and regular member for several NIH study sections, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher Reeve Foundation, Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research.  He served for six years on the scientific review panel for the Kentucky Spinal Cord and Head Injury Research Trust and currently is on the review panel for the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act (in CA) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

In the Media


Recent Selected Publications

"Exercise modulates chloride homeostasis after spinal cord injury"
Côté MP, Gandhi S, Zambrotta M, Houlé JD
J Neurosci. 34(27):8976-87, 2014

"Either Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or Neurotrophin-3 Only Neurotrophin-Producing Grafts Promote Locomotor Recovery in Untrained Spinalized Cats"
Ollivier-Lanvin K, Fischer I, Tom V, Houlé JD, Lemay MA.
Neurorehab Neural Repair, 2014

"Acute exercise prevents the development of neuropathic pain and the sprouting of non-peptidergic (GDNF- and artemin-responsive) c-fibers after spinal cord injury"
Detloff MR, Smith EJ, Quiros Molina D, Ganzer PD, Houlé JD
Exp Neurol. 255:38-48, 2014

"Axon regeneration and exercise-dependent plasticity after spinal cord injury"
Houle, J.D. and Côté, M.P.
Ann NYAS 1279: 154-163, 2013

"Exogenous BDNF enhances the integration of chronically injured axons that regenerate through a peripheral nerve grafted into a chondroitinase-treated spinal cord injury site"
Tom, V.T., Sandrow-Feinberg, H.R., Miller, K., Domitrovich, C., Bouyer, J., Zhukareva, V., Klaw, M.C., Lemay, M.A., Houle, J.D.
Exp. Neurol. 239: 91-100, 2013

"Chronic at- and below-level pain following unilateral cervical spinal cord contusion in rats"
Detloff, M.R., R.E. Wade Jr. and J.D. Houle
J. Neurotrauma 30:884-890, 2013

"Plasticity in ascending long propriospinal and descending supraspinal pathways in chronic cervical spinal cord injured rats"
Côté, M.-P., M.R. Detloff, R.E. Wade, M.A. Lemay, J.D. Houle
Frontiers in Physiology 3: Article 330, pp1-15, 2012

"Acute and prolonged hindlimb exercise elicits different gene expression in motoneurons than sensory neurons after spinal cord injury"
Keeler, B.E., G. Liu, R.N. Siegfried, V. Zhukareva, M. Murray, J.D. Houle
Brain Research 1438: 8-21, 2012

"Exercise modulates microRNAs that regulate the PTEN/mTOR pathway in rats after spinal cord injury"
Liu, G., M.R. Detloff, K.N. Miller, L. Santi, J.D. Houle
Exp Neuro. 233: 447-456, 2011

"Microarray analysis of axotomized and of regenerating lateral vestibular neurons in rats"
Murray, M., L. Santi, R. Monaghan, J.D. Houle, G.A. Barr
J. Comp. Neurol. 519: 3433-3455, 2011

"Role of Spared Pathways in Locomotor Recovery after Body Weight Supported Treadmill Training in Contused Rats"
Singh, A., S. Balasubramanian, M. Murray, M. Lemay, J. D. Houle
J Neurotrauma 28:1-12, 2011

"Peripheral nerve grafts support regeneration after spinal cord injury"
Côté, M.-P., A. Amin, V.J. Tom, J.D. Houlé
Neurotherapeutics 8:294-303, 2011

"Activity-dependent increase in neurotrophic factors is associated with an enhanced modulation of spinal reflexes after SCI"
Côté, M.-P., G.A. Azzam, M.A. Lemay, V. Zhukareva, J.D. Houlé
J. Neurotrauma 28:1-11, 2011

"A training paradigm to enhance motor recovery in contused rats: Effects of staircase training"
Singh, A., M. Murray, J.D. Houle
Neurorehab Neural Repair 25: 24-34, 2011

"Cycling exercise affects the expression of apoptosis-associated miRNAs after spinal cord injury in rats"
Liu, G. B.E. Keeler, V. Zhukareva, J.D. Houle
Exp. Neurol. 226:200-206, 2010

"Peripheral nerve grafts after cervical spinal cord injury in adult cats"
Côté, M.-P., A. Hanna, M.A. Lemay, K. Ollivier-Lanvin, L. Santi, K. Miller, R. Monaghan, J.D. Houle
Exp. Neurol. 225: 173-182, 2010

"PEGylated Interferon beta modulates the acute inflammatory response and recovery when combined with forced exercise following cervical spinal contusion injury"
Sandrow-Feinberg, H., Zhukareva, V., Santi, L., Baker, D.P., Houle, J.D.
Exp. Neurol. 223:439-451 PMID: 20109445, NIHMS: 175237, 2010

"Proprioceptive neuropathy affects normalization of the H-reflex by exercise after spinal cord injury"
Lanvin, K., Keeler, B., Lemay, M., Houle, J.D.
Exp. Neurology 221:198-205. PMID: 19913536, 2010

Contact Information

Research Office

Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy
2900 W. Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129
Phone: 215.991.8295
Fax: 215.843.9082