Advances in neural imaging technologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have made it possible to examine human brain function during movement in people post stroke. As technologies advance and a better understanding of post-stroke brain function emerges, brain imaging may be used to predict treatment effectiveness and to identify physiological markers of recovery. These advances will be particularly helpful for locomotor rehabilitation, because impaired walking ability is a major obstacle to quality of life post stroke. However, technical challenges have made it difficult to image the brain during locomotor-like movements. The purpose of the research project proposed here is to use fMRI to understand how the brain controls locomotor-like movements of the lower extremities in people post stroke. Pedaling will be used as a model of locomotion. The PIs will test the hypotheses that impaired locomotor ability post stroke is associated with abnormally elevated pedaling-related brain activity in the cerebral cortex on the undamaged side of the brain and that improved locomotor ability is associated with a shift in the focus of brain activity to spared cortical regions on the damaged side of the brain and to the cerebellum. This is an application for a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award that will allow the applicant to develop the research skills required to pursue an independent, productive career in rehabilitation research. The applicant is a physical therapist with doctoral and postdoctoral training in rehabilitation research. Her long term goal is to lead an independent, nationally recognized laboratory that examines supraspinal control of locomotion in people with neural injury. This is an important, emerging area in motor control to which the candidate can make meaningful contributions across her career trajectory. The candidate will use her discoveries to develop and test rehabilitation activities that enhance locomotor recovery after stroke. This application includes a career development plan that builds on the applicant's existing skills in neural control of movement and provides additional training in functional brain imaging, supraspinal control of locomotion, the physiological basis of neural adaptation, design and analysis of clinical trials, and the responsible conduct of research. She has selected as mentors three established scientists (Drs. Brian Schmit, Kristina Ropella, and Jules Dewald) with expertise in relevant content areas and funded research programs. Each mentor has a strong commitment to her success.
Many stroke survivors fail to regain walking ability which leads to poor quality of life. A better understanding of how the brain controls locomotion many lead to more effective treatments. The results of this study will provide insight into how the post-stroke brain controls locomotion and may lead to novel treatments for improving locomotion after stroke.
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