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Major Research Interests

Historically, movement neuroscience and medical intervention have focused on the limb and largely ignored voice and swallowing deficits associated with central nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson disease (PD). Dr. Ciucci’s work focuses on the fundamental differences in central nervous system control of movement for appendicular systems (limbs) versus axial systems (specifically the cranial systems involved in voice and swallowing) and how disease processes affect these systems differentially. She was prompted to begin this work based on the marked differences among these systems in therapeutic benefit for medical/surgical and exercise interventions for PD. The goals of her research are to develop appropriate behavioral treatment strategies unique to speech and swallowing disorders considering the influence of medical and surgical management as well as to elucidate the relevant neurobiological processes that affect disease and therapeutic processes. It is her hope that understanding these differences will lead to better treatments and functional outcomes for patients with PD and other neurologic disorders.

Click here to watch animation from Dr. Ciucci’s lab depicting targeted training of ultrasonic vocalizations in aged and Parkinsonian rats.

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Members of the Ciucci, Connor and McCulloch labs caught on camera at the 2011 Department of Surgery Research Summit.
Standing: Allison Shaser, Lisa Vinney, Corinne Jones, Laura Grant, John Russell, Emerald Doll, Jaime Shier, Michelle Ciucci, PhD, Hao Wang, PhD, Heidi Kletzien
Kneeling: Aaron Johnson, Nadine Connor, PhD
Seated: Blues Brothers



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Additional Research Interests

High Resolution Manometry of the Pharyngeal Swallow:
Collaborators: Dr. Timothy McCulloch, Dr. Nadine Connor,
Dr. Jack Jiang, Dr. Michael Hammer

This study integrates high resolution pressure data and non-linear systems analysis to elucidate the salient features of normal and dysfunctional swallowing with an immediate clinical translation. Pressure is not only an end-point of a muscular contraction, but also an input variable to modulate adaptive, swallow-related behaviors. To understand the basis of healthy function and the functional failures resulting from disease, we must understand the pharyngeal pressure milieu in detail. High Resolution Manometry (HRM) has the potential to directly measure the salient pressure parameters directing the flow of materials to the stomach.

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Primate Vocalizations:
Collaborator: Dr. Marina Emborg

Dr. Ciucci is now collecting vocalization data from non-human primates to study the effects of systemic models of PD and treatment for these conditions using stem cells, novel drug therapies, and also gene therapy.

Deep Brain Stimulation:
Collaborators: Dr. Erwin Montgomery, Dr. Karl Sillay, Dr. Michael Hammer

Her initial work utilized a neurosurgical intervention for PD, deep brain stimulation, to investigate the contribution of the basal ganglia to oropharyngeal swallowing and to examine the clinical effects of this surgery. This was the first study published in this area and naturally led to a multitude of scientific questions regarding the basal ganglia’s role in fine versus gross motor control of swallowing, the role of dopamine in oropharyngeal swallowing, and the differential effects of surgical interventions on limb actions versus swallowing. To address these questions, Dr. Ciucci continues to study swallowing disorders and interventions in patients with PD in several multidisciplinary collaborations.



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