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Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D.
The primary interest of our laboratory is in development and use of a new model for defining the substrates of vertebrate learning. Our studies have demonstrated operant conditioning of the simplest behavior of the vertebrate CNS, the H-reflex, which is the electrical analog of the spinal stretch reflex. The responsible plasticity is in the spinal cord, so that H-reflex conditioning is a good model for studying the processes underlying a learned change in behavior. In addition, it is the basis for a new therapeutic approach to spasticity and other forms of abnormal reflex function. Our present goals are to define the spinal cord plasticity associated with H-reflex conditioning both physiologically and anatomically, and to determine how supraspinal control produces this plasticity. In addition, we are developing brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to restore communication and control to people who are severely paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), strokes, or other devastating neuromuscular disorders. People learn to use their brain waves recorded from the scalp to select letters or icons on a computer screen or to move a cursor. We have begun to take our BCI system out of the lab and into the homes of people with severe disabilities. We are testing its capacity to restore communication and control to them in their daily lives.