Professor of Physiology
College of Veterinary Medicine
Far more men than women suffer from spinal cord injuries. A recent survey of men with such injuries found that the most important goal among paraplegics was not regaining the ability to walk, but regaining normal sexual and bladder function.
Physiological sciences Professor Richard D. Johnson says sexual and bladder dysfunction are common complications for men with chronic spinal cord injury. Before such men can be helped, detailed studies in an animal model must be carried out.
Johnson’s research focuses on the development of a rodent model to study the male reproductive and bladder neuronal circuits affected by a long-term spinal injury. Both of these functions depend on the coordination of pelvic floor muscles with spinal cord and brainstem pathways.
“The high number of war veterans returning from the Middle East with devastating nerve and spinal cord injuries increases the need for more research in nerve regeneration strategies,” says Johnson.
One of Johnson’s goals is to understand, using rodents, how the damaged spinal cord tries to heal itself by creating new connections between neurons. This understanding will help Johnson and his research team design more effective strategies for repairing or regenerating spinal circuitry that work with the body’s natural healing processes.
“In addition, our concurrent studies on peripheral nerve regeneration will address problems faced by both animals and humans with traumatic injuries where long nerve segments have been destroyed,” says Johnson.
Johnson hopes that the results from these NIH-funded projects will lead to a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying neuronal repair by assessing the functional outcome in the whole animal.