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Developmental Neurobiology Section - Division of Intramural Research


Michael J. O'Donovan Image

Michael J. O'Donovan, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Investigator

Dr. O'Donovan received his M.D. from the University of Bristol, England in 1972 and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Sherrington School of Physiology, at St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School, London in 1978. He then came to the United States to do post-doctoral work at the NIH and then Yale University, where with Dr. Lynn Landmesser he became interested in the development of spinal networks. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa. In 1988 he joined the Laboratory of Neural Control at the NINDS and in 1991 became chief of the Section on Developmental Neurobiology. His major research interest is the origin and function of spontaneous activity in developing spinal networks.

Laboratory Staff

Dvir Blivis, Ph.D., Research Fellow
Nikolai Chub, Ph.D., Staff Scientist
Melanie Falgairolle, Ph.D., Research Fellow
Gal Haspel, Ph.D., Research Fellow
Wen Fang Liu, B.S., Research Assistant
Josh Puhl, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Avinash Pujala, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Amy Shafqat, B.S., M.S, Graduate Student

Research Interests

Research in this section is concerned with the development and operation of circuits in the spinal cord. We are currently devoting most of our effort to understanding the organization of spinal circuitry involved in locomotion of the neonatal mouse. We are particularly interested in understanding the role of motoneurons in the operation of locomotor networks and the mechanisms responsible for the excitatory effects of motoneurons within the spinal cord.

We have also been using calcium and voltage-sensitive dye imaging to visualize the spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity associated with rhythmic locomotor-like bursting. This work has revealed the existence of a rostro-caudal 'wave' of excitation in the activation of rostral lumbar and sacral motoneurons during each cycle of rhythmic activity. We are currently using imaging the visualize the neuronal populations that are active during spinal network activity.

We are also using optogenetics to examine the role of motoneurons and other neuronal classes in locomotor rhythmogenesis and pattern formation.


Selected Recent Publications

  • Thirumalai V, Behrend RM, Birineni S, Liu W, Blivis D, O'Donovan MJ
    2. Preservation of VGLUT1 synapses on ventral calbindin-immunoreactive interneurons and normal locomotor function in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy, J Neurophysiol, 2013, vol. 109, pp. 702-10. Full Text/Abstract
  • Etlin A, Finkel E, Mor Y, O'Donovan MJ, Anglister L, Lev-Tov A
    Characterization of sacral interneurons that mediate activation of locomotor pattern generators by sacrocaudal afferent input, J Neurosci, 2013, vol. 33, pp. 734-47. Full Text/Abstract
  • Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ
    A connectivity model for the locomotor network of Caenorhabditis elegans, Worm, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 125-128. Full Text/Abstract
  • Blivis D, O'Donovan MJ
    Retrograde loading of nerves, tracts, and spinal roots with fluorescent dyes, J Vis Exp, 2012, vol. 62, pp. e4008. Full Text/Abstract
  • Mentis GZ, Blivis D, Liu W, Drobac E, Crowder ME, Kong L, Alvarez FJ, Sumner CJ, O'Donovan MJ
    Early functional impairment of sensory-motor connectivity in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy, Neuron, 2011, vol. 69, pp. 453-67. Full Text/Abstract
  • Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ
    A perimotor framework reveals functional segmentation in the motoneuronal network controlling locomotion in Caenorhabditis elegans, J Neurosci, 2011, vol. 31, pp. 14611-23. Full Text/Abstract
  • Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ, Hart AC.
    Motoneurons dedicated to either forward or backward locomotion in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans., J Neurosci., 2010, vol. 33, pp. 11151-6.. Full Text/Abstract
  • Mentis GZ, Alvarez FJ, Shneider NA, Siembab VC, O'Donovan MJ.
    Mechanisms regulating the specificity and strength of muscle afferent inputs in the spinal cord., Ann N Y Acad Sci., 2010, vol. 1198, pp. 220-30.. Full Text/Abstract

Selected Earlier Publications


Contact Information

Developmental Neurobiology Section
Laboratory of Neural Control, NINDS
Building 35, Room 3C-1014
35 Convent Drive, MSC 3700
Bethesda, MD 20892-3700

Telephone: 301-496-8892 (office), 301-402-4835 (laboratory), 301-402-4836 (fax)
Email: odonovm@ninds.nih.gov