Research within the SNL is designed to understand the contributions of the brain’s structural and functional networks to everyday movements, and to leverage this understanding to develop new therapeutic interventions for individuals with sensorimotor dysfunction. Through the use of novel motor training interventions, paired with neuroimaging, we are developing methods that predict intervention responsiveness and promote neural plasticity. We utilize a range of neuroimaging techniques including functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation to assess neuroanatomy and neurophysiologic function. These state of the art imaging techniques are integrated with experimental paradigms relying on the biomechanical analysis of sensorimotor control to provide a comprehensive view of the neural control of movement.
Two legs, one brain: how the two sides of our brains’ communicate to coordinate gait and balance
People with MS often report significant asymmetries in strength and function between the legs which are associated with poorer postural sway and unstable walking. Currently there is limited understanding as to why these limb asymmetries exist and what regions within the central nervous system contribute to these mobility-limiting issues. It is also unknown how minimizing these lower limb asymmetries may affect, and potentially improve, balance ability in PwMS to facilitate movement during activities of daily living.
We suggest that impairments in postural control are, at least in part, a result of reduced communication between the two sides of the brain in PwMS. This project makes use of a state-of-the-art non-invasive brain stimulation technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation along with diffusion-based MRIs to allow us to assess the brain’s structure and function related to communication between the right and left sides of the brain in PwMS.
Leveling the playing field: evaluating the potential for laboratory-grade balance assessments in the field
Concussive and sub-concussive impacts to the head during the course of normal athletic competition often result in balance impairments that require better detection. The purpose of this study will be to test the validity of a portable and cost effective balance plate compared to two kinds of more expensive, and less mobile, laboratory equipment. If all three pieces of equipment perform equally well, this new technology will enable researchers and medical personnel to reliably assess balance closer to the field of play than currently available methods and at a much cheaper price.
State estimation of the body during virtual reality-based postural control training
Sensory information is used by the brain to form estimations of the state of the body. This sensory information is combined with stored memories to make assumptions on where our body parts are located in space. People with multiple sclerosis (PwMS) suffer from sensory impairments that could cause an over reliance on stored memory and under appreciation for incoming sensory information. We believe this is due to the fact that PwMS are making assumptions on where their body parts are located based on inaccurate sensory input, thus inadvertently allowing themselves to become more unstable and more likely to lose their balance. This project uses virtual reality along with motion capture to gain an objective understanding of the amount that PwMS are relying on sensory information when forming beliefs on their state of stability.