At present, the aim of our research is to understand the organization and operation of neuronal networks underlying control of balance, changes in their operation caused by different types of spinal cord injury (SCI), as well as changes underlying recovery of balance control. To achieve this, we use mammalian animal models (mice, rabbits, cats) and a number of state-of-the-art techniques (e.g., techniques which allow studying the orientation-dependent activity of individual neurons in decerebrate preparations, recording the activity of identified neurons in animals performing postural tasks, a method of “reversible spinalization”, chemogenetics, etc.).
We have revealed and characterized activity of spinal neurons of postural network, demonstrated immediate effects of the lateral hemisection (LHS) of the spinal cord and complete transection of the spinal cord on their activity that underly disappearance of postural control immediately after SCI. We demonstrated gradual changes in activity of spinal neurons of postural networks leading to recovery of postural functions after LHS, as well as those resulting in disintegration of postural functions after complete SCI.
Our lab is also engaged in characterizing the therapeutic effects of electrical epidural stimulation (ES) of the spinal cord that can improve/restore forward stepping in patients. We demonstrated that ES activates the same spinal locomotor network generating forward locomotion that is activated by commands from the brain in intact animals. We demonstrated that ES can also evoke stepping in other directions (backward, sideways) and thus potentially could be used for restoration of balance control that requires the ability to generate corrective steps in different directions.