Research in the laboratory is focussed on how different forms of sensory information, including cutaneous, auditory and vestibular afferents, can influence movement. The laboratory combines neurophysiological techniques with behavioural experiments in both humans and insect model systems to further understand the mechanisms underlying sensory-motor integration and neuromodulation.
Human neurophysiological studies in the laboratory are predominantly conducted in healthy adult volunteer populations and combine non-invasive neurostimulation with behavioural sensory and motor tasks. These sensory and motor tasks include techniques such as 3D motion capture at the Trinity Health Centre; a programmable haptic interface and quantitative sensory testing (QST). A variety of different non-invasive neurostimulation and neuromodulation techniques are used in the studies with both behavioural alterations and alterations in underlying cortical excitability measured. Neurostimulation techniques include repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, rTMS; transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS and high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation, HD-tDCS. These methods enable the research group to examine how the targeting of both cortical (primary motor cortex and dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex) and sub-cortical (the cerebellum) targets can either alter motor performance or modulate sensory experience, including pain. These novel neurostimulation protocols are being experimentally tested in healthy participants, but it is hoped that this approach in the future will form the basis for the development of patient-specific therapeutic interventions that could be used in conjunction with pharmacological treatments in the alleviation of chronic pain and promotion of motor recovery following injury.
Work in insect model systems (predominantly the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria) aims to understand the mechanisms underlying sensory-motor integration by combining naturalistic experimental designs with both intra and extra cellular electrophysiological recording and myograms. The laboratory is equipt with 3D high-speed cameras that enable a precise characterization of the animals’ behaviour that can then be correlated with physiological measures.
In summary sensory-motor integration is studied at many different levels, with the aim to understand how neuromodulatory techniques can be ultimately utilized in order to enhance behaviour. The laboratory has links with the charity, Chronic Pain Ireland who seek to recognise chronic pain as a health care problem in its own right. Coupled with this is an interest in both the accessibility of health care and the health care costs associated with those experiencing pain.
For further information about Dr Alice Witney please view her CV Profile