Dr. Sheila Schindler-Ivens' Research

Lab:                                          Neuromuscular Control of Movement Laboratory

Principle Investigator:               Sheila Schindler-Ivens, PhD, PT

What do we study?

  • My research team and I study how neural circuits in the brain and spinal cord contribute to impaired limb movement in people with stroke. We use this knowledge to develop novel strategies for improving movement in this population. Our emphasis is on locomotor-like movements of the lower limbs.

Click here to participate in our study

What are some of our major accomplishments?

  • Pedaling during fMRI
    Our team was the first to use fMRI to examine human brain activation during locomotor-like movements of the lower limbs. We designed, fabricated, and tested a pedaling device that sits on the end of on fMRI scanner bed. Check out these articles to see our “bike” and learn how we control head motion during pedaling.
  • Brain Activation Post-Stroke
    We have used our fMRI-compatible “bike” to examine brain activation during pedaling in people with stroke. We learned that people with stroke activate a smaller volume of brain tissue during pedaling than age-matched controls. Reduced brain activation may be related to impaired global network function of the brain and the clinical phenomenon of compensation. You can read more about these discoveries in our published articles. 
  • New Rehabilitation Techniques
    Our team has developed a novel training strategy to encourage use of the paretic lower limb while also retraining interlimb coordination. We are testing its effects now and have a patent pending on the new technology. 
  • Other Contributions to Science
    We have made several other contributions to understanding neural control of leg movement after stroke. Click on this link to follow for a more complete list of our contributions to science.

Who is part of our research team? 

  • Clinicians, life scientists, and engineers work together while pursuing their PhD, MS, DPT or undergraduate degree. Our PhD students have a deep commitment to research; while the undergraduate, DPT, and MS students may be exploring the research process for the first time. The team’s complementary skills and interests allow us to be more successful together than apart. A partial list of past and present lab members is provided here.
    • Brice Cleland, PhD
    • Nutta-on Promjunyakul, PhD
    • Kaleb Vinehout, PhD (cand.)
    • Tom Ruopp, PhD (cand.)
    • Jay Mehta, MS
    • Ruth Swedler, MS
    • Brett Arand, MS
    • Shancheng Bao, MS
    • Ben Rappaport, MS (cand.)
    • Jan Struhar, DPT
    • Amada Waldera, DPT (cand.)
    • Christine Smith, DPT (cand.)

How are we funded?

Who are our collaborators?

  • Some of our collaborators include Drs. Brian Schmit, John McGuire, and John LaDisa. We are part of The Stroke Rehabilitation Center of SE Wisconsin and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of SE Wisconsin. Dr. Schindler-Ivens’ mentors include Drs. Richard Shields, David Brown, John Brooke, and W. Zev Rymer.

How did Dr. Schindler-Ivens get here? 

  • Clinical Experience
    Our research program evolved from my clinical interests and research training. I am a licensed physical therapist with over 25 years of experience working with physically disabled people. As a young clinician I was fascinated by the bizarre and seemingly intractable movement patterns caused by nervous system injury.  I was also frustrated with my inability to help my patients regain smooth and purposeful movement; so, I turned to graduate school for answers. 
  • Research Training (PhD)
    While completing my PhD at the University of Iowa, I studied spasticity in people with spinal cord injury. This poorly managed and incurable condition causes limb stiffness and involuntary spastic-like movements that interfere with walking and other forms of mobility.  The mechanisms underlying spasticity remain unclear. I used electrophysiologic techniques such as H-reflexes and M-waves to examine reflex excitability in people with spasticity caused by spinal cord injury.  This line of work contributed to the current understanding that spasticity is associated with reduced presynaptic inhibition of Group Ia afferents and that the spastic condition is caused by factors more complex than hyperactivity in the monosynaptic reflex arc. Click below to review my published work in this area. 
  • Research Training (Postdoc)
    My postdoctoral training at Northwestern University expanded my skills in electrophysiology, provided an opportunity to examine neural pathways during movement, and launched my current line of investigation. I examined abnormal muscle activation patterns during pedaling in stroke survivors.  Pedaling is a controllable, reproducible, and well described activity that serves as a model for locomotion.  I found that, when people with stroke performed the unfamiliar task of backward pedaling, paretic muscle activation was improved.  This observation resulted in a publication in the Journal of Neurophysiology on which I am the first author, and led to the hypothesis that the brain, particularly the primary motor cortex, may have an important role in controlling locomotion post-stroke.
  • Work at Marquette
    Upon arriving at Marquette, I set up my own research laboratory to test hypotheses generated during my postdoctoral training and others that have emerged since. My laboratory uses a pedaling paradigm, H-reflexes, cutaneous reflexes, and other electrophysiological probes to examine the function of cortical and sensory pathways during locomotion in people post-stroke.  We also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and pedaling to understand how the brain adapts after injury to produce locomotor-like movements.  I am particularly proud of our research line that uses fMRI during pedaling, as my laboratory overcame many real and perceived obstacles to be the first to use this technique to understand the way the brain controls locomotion. Our publications are the first of their kind.  Now, we are using what we have learned from our fMRI work to develop a novel training strategy to improve paretic limb movement and interlimb coordination after stroke.  We are also continuing to study brain function after stroke with experiments that examine local and global network function.  Click below for a list of our more recent work at Marquette University.