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Senior Investigator

Michael J. O'Donovan, M.D., Ph.D.

Developmental Neurobiology Section

Laboratory of Neural Control
Building 35 Room 3C-1014
35 Convent Drive MSC 3700
Bethesda MD 20892-3700
Office: (301) 496-8892
Lab: (301) 402-4835
Fax: (301) 402-4836
odonovm@ninds.nih.gov

Dr. O'Donovan received his M.D. from the University of Bristol, England in 1972 and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Sherrington School of Physiology, at St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School, London in 1978. He then came to the United States to do post-doctoral work at the NIH and then Yale University, where with Dr. Lynn Landmesser he became interested in the development of spinal networks. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa. In 1988 he joined the Laboratory of Neural Control at the NINDS and in 1991 became chief of the Section on Developmental Neurobiology. His major research interest is the origin and function of spontaneous activity in developing spinal networks.



Research in this section is concerned with the development and operation of circuits in the spinal cord. We are currently devoting most of our effort to understanding the organization of spinal circuitry involved in locomotion of the neonatal mouse. We are particularly interested in understanding the role of motoneurons in the operation of locomotor networks and the mechanisms responsible for the excitatory effects of motoneurons within the spinal cord.

We have also been using calcium and voltage-sensitive dye imaging to visualize the spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity associated with rhythmic locomotor-like bursting. This work has revealed the existence of a rostro-caudal 'wave' of excitation in the activation of rostral lumbar and sacral motoneurons during each cycle of rhythmic activity. We are currently using imaging the visualize the neuronal populations that are active during spinal network activity.

We are also using optogenetics to examine the role of motoneurons and other neuronal classes in locomotor rhythmogenesis and pattern formation.
Staff Image
  • Dvir Blivis, Ph.D.
    Visiting Fellow

  • Nikolai Chub, Ph.D.
    Staff Scientist
    (301) 402-4835

  • Melanie Falgairolle, Ph.D.
    Visiting Fellow
    (301) 451-7231

  • Gal Haspel, Ph.D.
    Research Fellow

  • Wen Liu, B.S.
    Research Assistant
    (301) 496-9661

  • Josh Puhl, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Avinash Pujala, B.S.
    Graduate Student

  • Amy Shafqat, B.S.
    Graduate Student

  • 1) Thirumalai V, Behrend RM, Birineni S, Liu W, Blivis D, O'Donovan MJ (2013)
  • 2. Preservation of VGLUT1 synapses on ventral calbindin-immunoreactive interneurons and normal locomotor function in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy.
  • J Neurophysiol, 109, 702-10
  • 2) Etlin A, Finkel E, Mor Y, O'Donovan MJ, Anglister L, Lev-Tov A (2013)
  • Characterization of sacral interneurons that mediate activation of locomotor pattern generators by sacrocaudal afferent input.
  • J Neurosci, 33, 734-47
  • 3) Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ (2012)
  • A connectivity model for the locomotor network of Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Worm, 1, 125-128
  • 4) Blivis D, O'Donovan MJ (2012)
  • Retrograde loading of nerves, tracts, and spinal roots with fluorescent dyes.
  • J Vis Exp, 62, e4008
  • 5) Mentis GZ, Blivis D, Liu W, Drobac E, Crowder ME, Kong L, Alvarez FJ, Sumner CJ, O'Donovan MJ (2011)
  • Early functional impairment of sensory-motor connectivity in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy
  • Neuron, 69, 453-67
  • 6) Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ (2011)
  • A perimotor framework reveals functional segmentation in the motoneuronal network controlling locomotion in Caenorhabditis elegans.
  • J Neurosci, 31, 14611-23
  • 7) Haspel G, O'Donovan MJ, Hart AC. (2010)
  • Motoneurons dedicated to either forward or backward locomotion in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
  • J Neurosci. , 33, 11151-6.
  • 8) O'Donovan MJ, Bonnot A, Mentis GZ, Chub N, Pujala A, Alvarez FJ. (2010)
  • Mechanisms of excitation of spinal networks by stimulation of the ventral roots.
  • Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1198, 63-71.
  • 9) Mentis GZ, Alvarez FJ, Shneider NA, Siembab VC, O'Donovan MJ. (2010)
  • Mechanisms regulating the specificity and strength of muscle afferent inputs in the spinal cord.
  • Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1198, 220-30.
  • 10) Jovanovic K, Pastor AM, O'Donovan MJ. (2010)
  • The use of PRV-Bartha to define premotor inputs to lumbar motoneurons in the neonatal spinal cord of the mouse.
  • PLoS One, 5(7), e11743.
  • 11) Fields DR, Shneider N, Mentis GZ, O'Donovan MJ. (2009)
  • Imaging nervous system activity.
  • Curr Protoc Neurosci. , Chapter 2:, Unit 2.3
  • 12) Shneider NA, Mentis GZ, Schustak J, O'Donovan MJ. (2009)
  • Functionally reduced sensorimotor connections form with normal specificity despite abnormal muscle spindle development: the role of spindle-derived neurotrophin 3.
  • J Neurosci., 29, 4719-35.
  • 13) Bonnot A, Chub NL, Pujala A, O'Donovan MJ. (2009)
  • Excitatory actions of ventral root stimulation during network activity generated by the disinhibited neonatal mouse spinal cord.
  • J Neurophysiol. , Epub, Mar.25
  • 14) O'Donovan MJ, Bonnot A, Mentis GZ, Arai Y, Chub N, Shneider NA, Wenner P. (2008)
  • Imaging the spatiotemporal organization of neural activity in the developing spinal cord.
  • Dev Neurobiol., 68, 788-803
  • 15) Vladimirski BB, Tabak J, O'Donovan MJ, Rinzel J. (2008)
  • Episodic activity in a heterogeneous excitatory network, from spiking neurons to mean field.
  • J Comput Neurosci. , 25, 39-63
  • 16) Oz M, Yang KH, Shippenberg TS, Renaud LP, O'Donovan MJ (2007)
  • Cholecystokinin B type receptors mediate a G protein-dependent depolarizing action of cholecystokinin (CCK-8s) on rodent neonatal spinal ventral horn neurons.
  • J.Neurophysiol., 98, 1108-14
  • 17) Personius KE, Chang Q, Mentis GZ, O'Donovan MJ, Balice-Gordon RJ. (2007)
  • Reduced gap junctional coupling leads to uncorrelated motor neuron firing and precocious neuromuscular synapse elimination.
  • PNAS, 104, 11808-11813
  • 18) Jean-Xavier C, Mentis GZ, O'Donovan MJ, Cattaert D, and Vinay L (2007)
  • Dual personality of GABA/glycine-mediated depolarizations in immature spinal cord
  • PNAS, 104, 11477-11482
  • 19) Blivis D, Mentis GZ , O'Donovan MJ and Lev-Tov A (2007)
  • Interaction between afferent pathways and central pattern generators in the neonatal rat spinal cord
  • J. Neurophysiol., 97, 2875-2886
  • 20) Arai Y, Mentis GZ, Wu J and O'Donovan MJ (2007)
  • Ventrolateral origin of activity during each cycle of spontaneous activity generated by the spinal cord of the chick embryo
  • PLoS ONE, 2(5), e317
  • 21) Tabak J, O'Donovan MJ and Rinzel J (2006)
  • Differential control of active and silent phases in relaxation models of neuronal rhythms
  • J. Comp. Neurosci., 21, 307-328
  • 22) Chub N, Mentis GZ and O'Donovan MJ (2006)
  • Chloride-Sensitive MEQ Fluorescence in Chick Embryo Motoneurons Following Manipulations of Chloride and During Spontaneous Network Activity
  • J.Neurophysiol , 95, 323-330
  • 23) Mentis GZ, Gravell M, Hamilton R, Shneider NA, O'Donovan MJ and Schubert M (2006)
  • Transduction of Motor Neurons and Muscle Fibers by Intramuscular Injection of HIV-1-based Vectors Pseudotyped with Select Rabies Virus Glycoproteins
  • J.Neurosci.Meth., 157, 208-217
  • 24) Mentis GZ, Siembab VC, Zerda R, O'Donovan MJ and Alvarez FJ (2006)
  • Primary afferent synapses on developing Renshaw cells
  • J. Neurosci., 26, 13297-13310
  • 25) O'Donovan MJ, Bonnot A, Wenner P, Mentis GZ (2005)
  • Calcium imaging of network function in the developing spinal cord.
  • Cell Calcium , 37, 443-450
  • 26) Marchetti C, Tabak J, Chub N, O'Donovan MJ and Rinzel J (2005)
  • Model of spontaneous activity in the developing spinal cord using activity-dependent variations of intracellular chloride
  • J. Neurosci, 25, 3601-3612
  • 27) Mentis GZ, Alvarez FJ, Bonnot A, Richards DS, Gonzalez-Forero D, Zerda R and O'Donovan MJ (2005)
  • Non-cholinergic excitatory actions of motoneurons in the neonatal mammalian spinal cord.
  • PNAS, 102, 7344-7349
  • 28) Oz M, Yang SK, O'Donovan MJ and Renaud LP (2005)
  • Presynaptic Angiotensin II AT1 Receptors Enhance Inhibitory and Excitatory Synaptic Neurotransmission to Motoneurons and other Ventral Horn Neurons in Neonatal Rat Spinal Cord
  • J.Neurophysiol, 94, 1405-1412
  • 29) Bonnot A, Mentis GZ, Skoch J and O'Donovan MJ (2005)
  • Electroporation Loading of Calcium Sensitive Dyes into the Central Nervous System
  • J. Neurophysiol, 93, 1793-1808
  • 30) Bonnot A, Whelan P, Mentis GZ and O'Donovan MJ (2002)
  • Spatiotemporal pattern of motoneuron activation in the rostral lumbar and sacral segments during locomotor-like activity in the neonatal mouse spinal cord
  • J. Neurosci., 22, RC203
  • 31) Chub N and O'Donovan MJ (2001)
  • Post-Episode Depression of GABAergic transmission in spinal neurons of the chick embryo
  • J. Neurophysiol, 85 , 2166-2176
  • 32) Wenner P and O'Donovan MJ (2001)
  • Mechanisms that initiate spontaneous network activity in the developing chick spinal cord
  • J. Neurophysiol. , 86, 1481-1498
  • 33) Tabak J, Rinzel J and O'Donovan, MJ (2001)
  • The role of activity-dependent network depression in the expression and self-regulation of spontaneous activity in the developing spinal cord of the chick embryo
  • J. Neurosci., 21, 8966-8978
  • 34) Whelan P, Bonnot A and O'Donovan MJ (2000)
  • Properties of rhythmic activity generated by the isolated spinal cord of the neonatal mouse
  • J. Neurophysiol., 84, 2821-2833
  • 35) Wenner P, O'Donovan MJ and Matise MP (2000)
  • Topographical and physiological characterization of interneurons that express the Engrailed-1 homeodomain transcription factor in the embryonic chick spinal cord.
  • J. Neurophysiol., 84, 2651-2658
  • 36) Tabak J, Senn W, O'Donovan MJ, and Rinzel J (2000)
  • Modeling of spontaneous activity in developing spinal cord using activity-dependent network depression in an excitatory network.
  • J. Neurosci., 20, 3041-3056
  • 37) Sernagor E, Eglen SJ, O'Donovan MJ (2000)
  • Differential effects of acetylcholine and glutamate blockade on the spatiotemporal dynamics of retinal waves
  • J.Neurosci., 20, RC56:1-6
  • 38) Ritter A, Wenner P, HoS, Whelan PJ, O'Donovan MJ (1999)
  • Activity patterns and synaptic organization of ventrally located interneurons in the embryonic chick spinal cord
  • J.Neurosci., 19, 3457-3471
  • 39) Wenner P, O'Donovan MJ (1999)
  • Identification of an interneuronal population that mediates recurrent inhibition of motoneurons in the developing chick spinal cord
  • J. Neurosci., 19, 7557-7567
  • 40) O'Donovan MJ (1999)
  • The origin of spontaneous activity in developing networks of the vertebrate nervous system
  • Curr. Opin. Neurobiol., 9, 94-104
  • 41) Moore LE, ChubN, Tabak J, O'Donovan M (1999)
  • Comparison of NMDA-induced membrane potential oscillations and spontaneous rhythmic activity in the chick spinal cord
  • J. Neurosci., 19, 8271-8280
  • 42) Fedirchuk B, Wenner P, Whelan PJ, Ho S, Tabak J, O'Donovan MJ (1999)
  • Spontaneous network activity transiently depresses synaptic transmission in the embryonic chick spinal cord
  • J. Neurosci., 19, 2102-2112
  • 43) Chub N and O'Donovan MJ (1998)
  • Blockade and recovery of spontaneous rhythmic activity following application of neurotransmitter antagonists to spinal networks of the chick embryo.
  • J. Neurosci., 18, 294-306
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