Katinka Stecina, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Physiology & Pathophysiology

University of Manitoba

409 BMSB
My research work is in both rodent and in human models. My projects run in the in vivo, adult mouse lab and in the in vivo rat lab as well as in the recently established human lab. I use a combination of classical electrophysiological techniques for brain stimulation and recording of neural activity. My work aims to improve our understanding on the organization of spinal cord circuits involved in the generation of motor actions and the sensory control of locomotion.The interactions between the brain and spinal interneuron classes (some related to the central pattern generator network) and the interneurons contributing to autonomic functions are the two main lines of research in my lab. Basic science studies with high-potential future implications and breakthroughs in the rehabilitation of motor function following an injury to the central nervous system, including spinal cord injury or stroke is the focus of my research.

The current research projects are the following:

    1. Mature spinal networks in rodents (NSERC Discovery grant, 2015): the goal is to utilize activity-dependent labeling and genetic mouse models to detect neurons and networks active during walking, during brain-stimulation evoked fictive locomotion and during crossed-extension reflexes. Optogenetic tools for selective activation of distinct neuronal circuits are used together within vivo electrophysiology for studying functionally mature mouse spinal neurons in an integrated stereotaxic brain and spinal frame. In decerebrated mice, motor output is generated in several ways, including reflexive and voluntary loops while recording or stimulating spinal neurons. Cholinergic interneurons and networks are in the centre of interest as their ability to generate locomotor output or to modify already existing locomotor patterns is powerful.
    2. Key serotonergic neurons involved in walking (CIHR Project grant 2017): this project in collaboration with Drs. L. Jordan & K. Cowley examines serotonergic neurons of the brainstem that are thought to project to spinal neurons and modulate locomotor activity. Chemogenetic and optogenetic methods in a genetically modified rat model are used to identify the systemic effects of selective, serotonergic neuron stimulation. The role of the neurons in the parpyramidal region will be differentiated from the role of more rostral clusters of serotonergic cells and co-control of autonomic functions are also being disclosed as we learn from our experimental outcomes in this complex project.
    3. The role of connexin36 in the mature nervous system (Manitoba Spinal Cord Injury Research Committee & CPP grant 2016):  in collaboration with J. Nagy, we are working on describing the functional role of a connexin protein that enables neuron-to-neuron gap junction formation. Gap junction formation not only in the developing but also in the mature nervous system is being recognized as more and more critical for network function and formation of “healthy” circuits in the brain. It is well established that connexin36 (Cx36) is expressed in neurons and forms gap junctions that are the substrate of electrical synapses but their physiological relevance needs to be clarified in the adult spinal cord. In the peripheral mature murine nervous system and in the mature spinal cord, we study Cx36 contributions to the axon reflex, to spinal pain processing and to viscero-motor coupling.  By the use of a Cx36 knock out mouse line, we also developed novel methods to understand on autonomic nervous system output and control by Cx36 – in healthy states as well as after spinal cord injury.
    4. Propriospinal networks contributing to locomotor activity generated in the lumbar spinal cord: in collaboration with Drs. B. Schmidt & K. Cowley we examine how a chain of neurons located in the thoraco-lumbar spinal cord contribute to the generation of locomotor activity. The pharmacological profiling of this network will be done in the mature rat to complement the decades of work on this system in the neonatal rat preparation. These studies will have strong relation to translational research, as the propriospinal networks represent great potential to be used as targets for stimulation in recovering sensory-motor and possibly autonomic function after spinal cord injury.
    5. Human electrophysiology research (URGP grant 2019): by the generous support of Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Will-to-Win Golf Classic in 2017, in collaboration with Dr. K. Cowley we have established a human electrophysiology laboratory. This lab is equipped with specific exercise equipment for those with spinal cord injury, such as wheel-chair treadmill, weight-supported locomotor treadmill trainer and infrastructure supporting electrophysiological studies including surface electromyography, electrical simulators and transcranial magnetic stimulation of the brain or spinal networks. Spinal networks allow the fastest left-right coordination during movement. They manifest as short reflex responses that are relatively easy to test clinically. How they can be used as therapeutic markers during rehabilitation of motor function after injury to the central nervous system such as stroke or spinal cord injury is yet unclear. Our work will explore spinal reflexes and the interactions between cortical and spinal networks to develop novel rehabilitation intervention for improved functional recovery after spinal cord injury.
Areas of Expertise
Electrophysiology, brain, spinal cord, function network analysis, interneurons, sensory-motor coordination, reflex, surface EMGs, nerve stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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Sharon McCartney, Lab Technician
Maria Setterbom, Lab Technician (casual)
Peisan Lew, Lab Technician (part-time)
Katrina Armstrong, PhD Student
Berkan Kocer, MSc Student
Mona Nazzal, PhD Student
Attiyeh Vasaghi, MSc Student
See Also
Dept. of Physiology & Pathophysiology profile for Dr. Stecina