The Department of Biology, University of Maryland

Photo: Dr. Cohen at work

Associate Professor
Department of Biology and
Neuroscience and Cognitive
and The Institute
of Systems Research.

Bio/Psych Building,
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: (301) 405-0069
Fax:     (301)-314-9358

Dr. Avis H. Cohen
Avis Cohen's Lab Page

Research Interests:

Motor Control, Spinal Cord Regeneration and Computational Neuroscience and Neuromorphic Engineering

        Nervous systems are complex systems of interacting centers of activity. Workers in my laboratory study the organization of complex systems, in general, and the lamprey central pattern generator for locomotion, in particular.   We study both the normal and the injured spinal cord.  Most neuroscientists choose to study either the behavior of whole animals or isolated pieces of nervous systems.  However, the intellectual link between these two groups of scientists is often difficult to make.  What is the relationship between the behavior of the organism and its nervous system?   Clearly, the nervous system generates the behavior, but how?

        My colleagues and I study an isolated piece of the nervous system, but an isolated piece that can perform a "behavior."   In particular, we study the isolated spinal cord of a primitive vertebrate, the lamprey.   For these studies, we use whole animals and semi-reduced preparations.  In this way, we are able to bridge the gap between the parts of the system and the whole animal's behavior.  The work is focused on the mechanisms underlying the generation of an organized motor behavior, locomotion.

        In addition to the normal animal, we also study the process of regeneration in the lamprey spinal cord.  The animal spontaneously regenerates after injury, but the regeneration can be either functional or dysfunctional.  We study how the spinal cord is organized under the two sets of conditions in hopes of preventing problematic regeneration in people when regeneration is finally achieved in human spinal cord injury patients.

        We use neurophysiology, immunohistochemistry, computational and neuromorphic engineering to disentangle the various threads of the system.   People using the diverse experimental methods all interact and inform each other.   Thus, we hope to understand a complex behavior in a relatively simple animal, and apply the understanding to a much more complex animal - the human.

Representative Publications: