Sensorimotor Plasticity Research Center

Mary Snyder Shall, PT, Ph.D.

This complex of laboratories was established to provide research at various stages ranging from basic animal experiments to application to human studies. The mission of the Sensorimotor Plasticity Lab is to investigate the impact of peripheral changes on the central nervous systems (CNS) or the effect of a loss of a sensory system such as the vestibular receptors on muscle development.  We also are investigating the interaction of the various sensory and motor cortices and how function is impacted by mild head injury. 

  • -80 degree freezer for storing and Microm HM550 cryostat for sectioning human or animal neurologic or muscle tissue for immunohistological analysis.
  • Microcentrifuge and Napco Centrifuge 2028R
  • Tecan Magellan Microplate Reader
  • BioRad Protein Electrophoresis Chamber
  • Nikon Microphot Microscope and Qimaging Digitizing camera
  • Computers with software for digital analysis of muscle fiber cross sections and proportions of myosin heavy chains.
  • HTC VIVE Virtual Reality System and 360 degree camera
  1. Does Follistatin effectively Augment Skeletal Muscle Fiber Recovery Following Moderate Periods of Denervation?
  2. Neuroplasticity viewed through dynamic functional positron emission tomography (fPET) imaging

The objective of the study is to determine potential augmenting effects of follistatin (FS) on strength, mass, and muscle fiber composition recovery of re-innervated rat muscle following moderate and long periods of denervation. Preliminary data shows that treatment with FS protein induces muscle fiber diameter hypertrophy, particularly those expressing type IIa and IIb myosin heavy chain isoforms.  This study is supported by the DOD and inspired by soldiers who have suffered peripheral nerve injuries on the battlefield that could not be repaired until they returned home.

Our interdisciplinary team includes Mary Shall, PT, PhD, with expertise in neuroplasticity as it affects changes in motor development and muscle fiber and function; a medieval art historian Janet Snyder, MA, PhD, with expertise in sculpture as a means of communication; and neuroscientist Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, PhD, of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at WVU, who has led the development of a lightweight, wearable PET imager and novel brain imaging techniques that permit unprecedented temporal resolution of task-related glucose (F18-FDG) metabolism while the subject is upright.  Our project is exploring how aspects of two- and three-dimensional images are processed in different regions of the brain. Determining the mechanisms of functional visual spatial processing in a normal brain using the PET imager and Virtual Reality opens the possibility of determining and then analyzing what part of the brain is working (or not) in a patient who has suffered a concussion. This understanding may be crucial to the recovery of these patients as we understand and facilitate their neuroplastic recovery, with targeted therapies based on neuroscience.

Electroneurophysiology laboratory

This lab features a specialized surgical table designed to hold anesthetized animals in a stereotaxic frame during acute experiments for in vivo stimulation of neurons at the nucleus or nerve and measuring the contractile characteristics of spinal-nerve-innervated muscles such as the soleus or triceps muscles or cranial-nerve-innervated muscles such as tongue or extraocular muscles. The 400-pound granite tabletop can be “floated” to minimize the effect of floor vibration when measuring the forces of single motor units. Surgical lighting is available to optimize visualization. Physiologic data from strain gauge and differential amplifiers table is converted to digital media and recorded using “PowerLab” software.

Immunohistology laboratory

In the histology laboratory, muscle, bone or connective tissue are collected from animals and stored in a -70-degree freezer. Tissue may be sectioned using the cryotome for immunohistological analysis or dehydrated for the extraction of proteins such as myosin-heavy chains for processing with gel electrophoresis to determine the exact proportions of muscle-fiber types. The laboratory is outfitted with an exhaust hood, autoclave, cabinets, refrigerator, centrifuges, freezers and wet lab counters and sinks.

Human sensorimotor development laboratory

Dr. Dusing, Dr. Pidcoe, and Dr. Shall collaborate on a study of children with and without hearing deficits. We are specifically testing the vestibular system using vestibular electromyogenic potentials (VEMP). The VEMP computer is portable and can be transported to the subjects’ homes. We can test developmental milestones using pediatric motor skill evaluation tools (such as the Movement ABC) in Dr. Dusing’s motor development lab. Dr. Pidcoe’s lab is outfitted with a motion analysis system for evaluation of eye movements during balancing activities and development of posture and balance strategies.

Yoga as part of integrative Medicine Laboratory

We teach restorative yoga postures and breathing exercises during the treatment of patients with lung cancer. Outcome measures include spirometry and the FACT-L which measures the health related quality of life with particular emphasis on the lung.