Current Students | Christina Thapa
Damage to the spinal cord can be caused in many ways ranging from motorvehicle accidents to recreational activities. Statistics provided by the NationalSpinal Cord Injury Statistical Center show that, as of 2015, about 12,500 newspinal cord injuries occur each year. According to theNational Spinal Cord Injury Association, 8 of every 95 patients withcomplete spinal cord injuries above C3 die before receiving any medicaltreatment. The patients who survive are forever dependent on mechanicalrespirators to breathe. These statistics underscore the importance ofresearch in spinal cord injury.
Currently my research focus is in V2a interneurons. V2a are glutamatergicinterneurons that are located within the ventral horn of the spinal cord andare found at all spinal levels. These interneurons are shown to be importantfor locomotion and breathing. A previous study in our lab showed that after C2hemi-section, increasing the excitability of V2a neurons restored the activity ofpreviously paralyzed diaphragm. This result substantiates the hypothesis thatincreasing the activity of V2a neurons may help in restoration of functionafter spinal cord injury.
Similarly, another work in our lab revealed that increasing the activity ofV2a neurons results in an increase in activity of auxiliary respiratory muscles(ARMs). However, silencing the activity of V2a neurons also leads to anincrease in the activity of ARMs. These experiments showed that there are atleast two types of V2a neurons: excitatory V2a neurons and inhibitory V2aneurons. To corroborate this finding, a recently published paper by Hayashi et.al. revealed 11 molecular distinct sub-groups of V2a neurons. Keeping thesestudies in mind, we are working on identifying expression of differentmolecules of V2a neurons that may help in identifying different types of V2aneurons.