Department of Physiology
Emory University School of Medicine
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The spinal cord is the gateway for information transfer between body and brain but is not simply a conduit. Within its central gray matter lie millions of neurons that integrate and coordinate complex sensory, motor and autonomic events. My broad research interests have been on dysfunction in spinal sensorimotor integration (spinal cord injury, pain, autonomic dysreflexia, locomotor function, Restless Legs Syndrome). We concentrate on studies in neuromodulation-based plasticity focusing on biogenic amine modulators serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. These transmitters have been linked to activation of the spinal cord circuitry generating locomotion, control of autonomic NS function, as well as the potent inhibition of spinal cord pain systems. Dysfunction is spinal dopamine is also implicated in the emergence of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). I also began pioneering studies in a barely-studied class of biogenic amines called the ‘trace amines’. They act on recently cloned, apparently intracellularly-retained, metabotropic receptors, and may constitute a novel biochemical form of circuit modulation. We also pioneered an isolated in vitro rat spinal cord with intact hindlimbs freely stepping on a custom-built treadmill or force transducers to study the modulatory influence of sensory feedback from physiological hindlimb movement.