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Research at the intersection of behavioral state, spontaneous activity, and sensorimotor development

Infants continually explore and interact with the world around them, and these experiences are critical for normal development. Generally, people assume that it's the experiences that occur when infants are awake that matter most for development, but our research calls this assumption into question. We aim to understand how self-generated movements - with a particular focus on the twitches produced during REM sleep - drive neural activity that promotes sensorimotor integration and development. To achieve this, we investigate brain-behavior relations in infant rats as they cycle between sleep and wake. Our research uses a variety of methods, including multichannel neurophysiology, pharmacological and optogenetic manipulations, and behavioral analysis using computer vision and machine learning. The novelty of this work rests on the fact that, historically, sleep has been viewed as a period devoid of functional behavior.

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Although we're just getting started, we plan to establish two main lines of research:

1. How REM sleep and twitches promote the emergence of cortically-mediated motor control.

2. How twitches and wake movements interact to promote motor learning and sensorimotor plasticity in adulthood.

Read more about these two lines of research below.

1. REM sleep and twitches promote the emergence of cortical motor control

Early in life, primary motor cortex (M1) doesn't produce movement. Instead, it responds to sensory feedback from movements produced in the brainstem, demonstrated by how the neural activity in M1 lags behind movement.

However, this lag decreases across early development until postnatal day 20, when M1 shows near perfect correspondence between movement and movement-related neural activity.

This sets the stage for M1-mediated motor control.

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2. Twitches and wake movements interact to promote motor learning in adulthood

Anyone with a pet dog or cat knows that twitching persists into adulthood. We plan to examine how these movements continue to promote sensorimotor learning across the lifespan.

Lab photo - September 2023


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West Lafayette, IN, 47907

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