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Xiang Yang Chen, Ph.D.

  • Xiang Yang Chen

    Xiang Yang Chen, Ph.D.

    • National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies
    • Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany

    • Ph.D., Neurophysiology, University of Hong Kong (1990)
    • Postdoctoral training: New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center
    • Postdoctoral training: State University of New York at Albany

Research Interests

Spinal cord function is normally controlled by the brain. When injury or disease removes or distorts this influence, function changes, and spasticity and other disabling problems appear. The mechanisms of supraspinal control of spinal cord function are not well understood. Better understanding of how descending influence controls spinal reflexes could lead to novel methods for assessing spinal function after injury or disease, and for inducing and guiding functional recovery.

Operant conditioning of the spinal stretch reflex (i.e., the tendon jerk) or of its electric analog, the H-reflex, is a simple model for exploring long-term descending control over the spinal cord. It also provides a new method for assessing spinal function after injury or disease. For many years, our lab has been studying mechanisms and substrates of CNS plasticity. Using spinal reflex conditioning and brain stimulation models in freely moving rats, we have demonstrated the importance of the corticospinal tract (CST) and of specific supraspinal areas, including sensorimotor cortex (SMC) and cerebellum, in acquisition and maintenance of spinal cord reflex changes.

Our overall goal is to explore whether we can enhance CNS plasticity and use it to promote functional recovery after injury or disease. Currently, our lab is working on five basic-science and translational research projects: to define descending pathways and brain structures essential for creating and maintaining CNS plasticity; to define the spinal cord plasticity responsible for the conditioned H-reflex change; to learn how CNS plasticity can be initiated and guided to improve function after injury or disease; to investigate whether reflex conditioning can be used to improve locomotion after spinal cord injury; and to investigate whether reflex conditioning can modify the outputs of spinal circuits after a peripheral nerve injury and thereby promote function recovery.

Our work is leading to new understanding of the processes that underlie vertebrate learning. It is also guiding the development of new therapeutic techniques and new rehabilitation methods for patients with spinal cord injury and other neurological diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, nerve injuries, etc.).