Katinka Stecina, Assistant Professor
Research Focus: In order to re-generate spinal neuronal networks, their function in a healthy state needs to be understood. The neurons within the spinal cord are a complex, plastic group of cells which respond to sensory stimuli and can be “re-configured” – in fact, they are constantly being re-configures throughout our life – much like our brain. Re-connecting the brain cells and the spinal cord cells is important, but neurons will have to re-establish connectivity within each other in a way that is functional.  How do spinal neuronal circuits function? How are they built for function? – are the central questions of my research.  The central nervous system processes sensory input and incorporates our sensations with movements. We often think of voluntary movements being different from reflexive movements, yet our nervous system uses both of these types of movements in a very intricate way to produce appropriate motor output. Sensory motor integration is what I study in order improve our understanding on the neuronal control of movement. The function of spinal networks is the focus of my research, but I use various means to study how specific brain centres control spinal neurons. Currently, I used rodent models for studying interactions between the sensory and the motor neuronal networks. In addition, I am in the process of establishing another line of research for the functional mapping of human spinal circuits.

The main motivation for this work is to understand better how sensory information and motor function is integrated into micro-circuit s within the spinal cord. The more we know about how the spinal networks function, the more opportunities we can create to intervene with the circuits so improved rehabilitation strategies can be designed when training/re-training function after an injury to the central nervous system. The currently ongoing projects in my lab are the followings: i) Neuronal basis for bilateral coordination of movement; ii) Key spinal neuronal populations for coordinated (loco)motor activity; iii) Alternative" corticospinal pathways as targets for improved strategies in the (re)training of motor function in humans.

Looking into spinal cord circuit organization provides a way to test the integrity of higher control systems – i.e. those neurons of the brain that control spinal networks. This provides a theoretical possibility to look for changes in spinal neuronal function and diagnose changes in neuronal processing occurring not only at the spinal cord level but also at the level of the brain. These changes could provide us clues into disease processes early on, even before any structural changes occur in the brain. Thus the functional mapping of human spinal circuits has an important clinical aspect. Developing standard, clinical tests as early disease process markers in the ultimate goal of this work.

Research techniques used: electrophysiology, electroneurogram, nerve stimulation, sharp-electrode for intraspinal recording, voltage-clamp, fictive motor activity, neuromuscular blockade, stereotaxic-guided microelectrode positioning in the brain and the spinal cord, H-reflex conditioning, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), motor-evoked potentials (MEPs), treadmill walking, immunohistochemistry, fluorescent-labelling, electrical lesion identification, Nissl staining.

Academic Training: As a recipient of an NCAA Div I basketball scholarship, I completed by B.Sc. Biology/Chemistry degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The diverse, high level academic training at UNCC gave me the opportunity write a research (honours) thesis on computational models of spinal networks (lead by David Bashor, PhD). This work has brought me in contact with the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Canada where I have continued as a graduate student and completed my Ph.D. studies in 2006. As a native of Hungary, I love Europe and I started my postdoctoral training there – at Goteborg University in Sweden with Elzbieta Jankwoska, PhD -  where  I have learned the use of electrophysiological methods for studying how specific brain centres control the spinal networks as well as several other techniques I currently use in my lab.  Then another postdoc training period followed due to the generous support of the EU-FP6 framework program that has accepted me to be a Marie Curie Fellow (2007 – 2010). This support was inevitable for my training in human electrophysiological techniques at the Copenhagen Neuronal Control of Movement Research Group. This is a very special place in the world, as there are animal and human research labs working parallel in order to enhance our understanding on the neuronal control of movement.  In the laboratory of Drs. Hans Hultborn and Jens B. Nielsen, I have gained experience in multiple research methods while being part of a dynamic, international group – and all the group members have helped me to become the scientist I am today. The support from the Danish Agency of Independent Research (2010 – 2014) has helped me to transform some of my skills and to establish the rodent-preparations I am using for research currently. It has basically supported my initial work with genetically modified line of mice, which will be a great asset during my future career.

Current Lab Members:

  • Xiaoyu (Sarah) Chen, PhD – Postdoctoral Fellow (co-supervised with L. Jordan)
  • Jahanzeb Ansari – M.Sc. student (co-supervised with B. Schmidt)

    Other related links: www.scrc.umanitoba.ca
Katinka Stecina

University of Manitoba
Department of Physiology & Pathophysiology
436 Basic Medical Sciences Building
745 Bannatyne Avenue
Winnipeg MB
R3E 0J9

Tel:    204 789  3761
Fax:   204 789 3934

 I am currently accepting applications from qualified students for MSc studies.
Please, send your CV via e-mail to Katinka Stecina