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We are interested in how spinal circuits are organized to produce movements. Current projects include:

  • Rhythm generation in rodent spinal cord
    The rhythmic activity of the central pattern generator (CPG) controlling locomotion emerges from complex interactions between the intrinsic membrane and synaptic properties of neurons involved and their interconnections. The organization of the mammalian locomotor CPG is only beginning to be revealed. We are examining properties that may differentiate flexor- and extensor-related rhythm generating neurons. More specifically, we are interested in differential expression of rhythmogenic conductances, variations in firing during locomotion, and connectivity with ipsilateral inhibitory circuits. These experiments are being performed in collaboration with Natalia Shevtsova and Ilya Rybak, who are modeling these properties and interactions.
  • Plasticity of rhythm generating interneurons after injury and training
    Although the spinal locomotor network is not fully understood, it has been a prominent therapeutic target following spinal cord injury (SCI). Importantly, most injuries occur above the level of the spinal locomotor circuitry. Therefore, it is accessible for improving motor control and function. Impressive outcomes in both SCI patients and animal models have been shown using stimulation and/or exercise training strategies designed to target this system. We are using a combination of electrophysiological and optogenetic techniques in a mouse model of SCI to evaluate the consequences of SCI and passive exercise training on rhythm generating neurons and their connections to downstream targets.

In the lab we are using a variety of techniques including:

  • Whole cell patch clamp
  • Extracellular recordings
  • Optogenetics
  • Mouse genetics
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Chemogenetics

Research Support

Projects in the lab are currently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NINDS). Prior funding includes Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation.

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Kimberly J. Dougherty, PhD

Kimberly J. Dougherty, PhD
Associate Professor