Intermittent Hypoxia Induced Spinal Plasticity: Breathing and Walking After Spinal Cord Injury

11/02/2015 - 3:00pm
Gordon S. Mitchell, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Director, Center for Respiratory Research and Rehabilitation, University of Florida
Communicore, room C1-17

Intermittent HypoxiaI Induced Spinal Plasticity: Breathing and Walking after Spinal Cord Injury

Although unexpected by most, repeated exposure to brief episodes of low oxygen elicits neuroplasticity in motor systems, including the motor systems controlling breathing, upper airway and limb function. After nearly 25 years investigating detailed network and cellular mechanisms giving rise to this motor plasticity, we harnessed this capacity by using a “low dose” of repetitive acute intermittent hypoxia (rAIH) to restore lost breathing capacity and walking ability in rodent models of cervical spinal injury and motor neuron disease. Further, rAIH triggers recovery of limb function and walking ability in humans with chronic incomplete spinal injuries. Combined with traditional pharmacological, physical therapy or cell based rehabilitation strategies, we hope to develop comprehensive treatments for devastating clinical disorders that impair respiratory and non-respiratory motor function, including spinal cord injury and ALS. In this lecture, I describe the main model respiratory motor plasticity that has guided our thinking, and initial attempts to harness this plasticity for therapeutic advantage.

(Supported by: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: R3769064, 111598; Department of Defense: SC090355, SC120226 and SC130298; The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, Francis Families Foundation and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation).


Brief Bio:
Dr. Gordon S. Mitchell received his PhD from the University of California at Irvine in Developmental and Cell Biology, followed by postdoctoral work at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Goettingen, Germany. He then did one year of postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and became a faculty member there in 1980. He rose through the ranks becoming a full professor in 1992, and then served as Chair of the Department of Comparative Biosciences for 17 years before leaving to join the University of Florida Faculty one year ago. He has received numerous awards for his research, including a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, is a Fellow of the American Physiological Society, and was the Steenbock Professor in Behavioral and Neural Science at the University of Wisconsin. He has delivered major award lectures, speaking as a Special Lecturer at the Society for Neuroscience (2008), the Julius H. Comroe Distinguished Lecturer (American Physiological Society, 2014) and the Guyton Distinguished Lectureship Award (Association of Chairs of Departments of Physiology, 2014). In his time at the University of Florida, he has started a new Center for Respiratory Research and Rehabilitation with more than 25 affiliated PIs. His research focus concerns (cellular and network) mechanisms of spinal respiratory and non-respiratory motor plasticity, and the application of that knowledge to develop novel therapeutic strategies for spinal injury, motor neuron diseases and other clinical disorders that compromise movement. 


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