Current Students | Christina Thapa
Damage to the spinal cord can be caused in many ways ranging from motor vehicle accidents to recreational activities. Statistics provided by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center show that, as of 2015, about 12,500 new spinal cord injuries occur each year. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, 8 of every 95 patients with complete spinal cord injuries above C3 die before receiving any medical treatment. The patients who survive are forever dependent on mechanical respirators to breathe. These statistics underscore the importance of research in spinal cord injury.
Currently my research focus is in V2a interneurons. V2a are glutamatergic interneurons that are located within the ventral horn of the spinal cord and are found at all spinal levels. These interneurons are shown to be important for locomotion and breathing. A previous study in our lab showed that after C2 hemi-section, increasing the excitability of V2a neurons restored the activity of previously paralyzed diaphragm. This result substantiates the hypothesis that increasing the activity of V2a neurons may help in restoration of function after spinal cord injury.
Similarly, another work in our lab revealed that increasing the activity of V2a neurons results in an increase in activity of auxiliary respiratory muscles (ARMs). However, silencing the activity of V2a neurons also leads to an increase in the activity of ARMs. These experiments showed that there are at least two types of V2a neurons: excitatory V2a neurons and inhibitory V2a neurons. To corroborate this finding, a recently published paper by Hayashi et.al. revealed 11 molecular distinct sub-groups of V2a neurons. Keeping these studies in mind, we are working on identifying expression of different molecules of V2a neurons that may help in identifying different types of V2a neurons.