Effects of Injury and Disease on Neural Network Plasticity and Stability

current biology coverWelcome to the Schulz Lab in the Division of Biological Sciences and Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Missouri.

The nervous system is an interconnected system of neural networks that controls everything from the most critical basic functions (e.g. breathing, walking) to highly complex behaviors. Because of this interconnected nature of the nervous system, injury and disease in one part of the brain can have downstream effects on other networks even though those networks themselves are not injured. The Schulz Lab is interested in how loss of function in one “upstream” aspect of a neural network can have profound impacts on the uninjured “downstream” aspects of these systems.

The two major questions in the Schulz lab are how loss of input to neural networks changes the properties of the neurons of these networks, and what the impacts of those changes are for prospective recovery from injury. In particular, we are interested in how injuries and neurological diseases that impact the spinal cord change the neural networks below the injury that are responsible for not only locomotion, but also the networks controlling fundamental and critical functions like bladder and bowel output.

We combine molecular expression profiling with electrophysiology to understand how neuron and network physiology change, as well as the cellular basis for those changes. We use mouse models of spinal cord injury and neurological disease such as Multiple Sclerosis to conduct these studies. However, the mammalian nervous system presents many difficulties for detailed mechanistic investigation. Therefore, in addition we use crustacean models (crabs and lobsters) to understand basic principles of neural network function and dysfunction following injury and perturbation.

Our long-term goal is to impact the understanding of underlying changes in the nervous system as a result of injury and disease that may be overlooked. We believe that these changes are viable targets for future therapeutics, and could impact the diseases severity, impacts, and quality of life – as well as influencing long-term recovery and regaining of function.