Tom Lab

Studying how to promote functional recovery after spinal cord injury


While SCI patients view the regaining of autonomic functions as a high priority to improve their quality of life, promoting recovery of autonomic functions is a vastly understudied area of research. Furthermore, complications due to autonomic function disruption, such as cardiovascular disease, susceptibility to infection, and urinary system disorders, are leading causes of morbidity and mortality for chronically injured individuals with a spinal cord injury.

A newer direction in the lab is to develop strategies to promote recovery of autonomic functions that greatly impact quality-of-life.

One of the primary causes of cardiovascular disease and immune supporession in these patients is autonomic dysreflexia (AD), a life threatening dysfunction in which some sensory stimulus below the level of SCI triggers extreme hypertension accompanied by bradycardia.  AD is thought to develop from: 1) the loss of tonic input onto sympathetic preganglionic neurons that drive cardiovascular control; 2) aberrant plasticity leading to hyperexcitability of the spinal sympathetic reflex circuit. 

We are currently determining: 1) if we can promote axonal regeneration to sufficiently reinnervate sympathetic preganglionic neuron to normalize their activity; 2) if we can dampen hyperexcitability below the injury.