Rennaker, Robert L.

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Robert Rennaker is an Associate Professor, holder of the Cecil H. and Ida Green Chair in Systems Biology Science, and head of the Texas Biomedical Device Center. in 2015 he was awarded the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering. Learn more about him on his BBS People, Endowed Professorships and Chairs and Research Explorer pages.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 11 of 11
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    Vagus Nerve Stimulation Promotes Generalization of Conditioned Fear Extinction and Reduces Anxiety in Rats
    (Elsevier Science Inc, 2018-09-21) Noble, Lindsey J.; Meruva, Venkat B.; Hays, Seth A.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; McIntyre, Christa K.; 0000-0003-4225-241X (Hays, SA); 13146094343400332984 (Hays, SA); Noble, Lindsey J.; Meruva, Venkat B.; Hays, Seth A.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; McIntyre, Christa K.
    Background: Exposure-based therapies are used to treat a variety of trauma- and anxiety-related disorders by generating successful extinction following cue exposure during treatment. The development of adjuvant strategies that accelerate extinction learning, improve tolerability, and increase efficiency of treatment could increase the efficacy of exposure-based therapies. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) paired with exposure can enhance fear extinction, in rat models of psychiatric disorders, and chronic administration of VNS reduces anxiety in rats and humans. Objective: We tested whether VNS, like other cognitive enhancers, could produce generalization of extinction for stimuli that are not presented during the extinction sessions, but are associated with the fear event. Methods: Male Sprague Dawley rats underwent auditory fear conditioning with two easily discriminable auditory stimuli. Following fear conditioning, extinction training consisted of exposure to only one of the conditioned sounds. Half of the rats received VNS and half received sham stimulation during with sound presentations. VNS effects on anxiety were examined in a separate study where VNS was administered prior to testing on the elevated plus maze. Results: Sham stimulated rats given 20 presentations of a conditioned stimulus (CS) during the extinction session showed performance that was matched to VNS-treated rats given only 4 presentations of the CS. Despite comparable levels of freezing to the presented CS, only the VNS-treated rats showed a significant decrease in freezing to the CS that was not presented. VNS-induced generalization of extinction was observed only when the two sounds were paired with footshock within the same fear conditioning session; VNS did not promote generalization of extinction when the two sounds were conditioned on different days or in different contexts. On the anxiety test, VNS administration significantly increased time spent in the open arms of the elevated plus maze. Conclusion: These results provide evidence that VNS can promote generalization of extinction to other stimuli associated with a specific fear experience. Furthermore, non-contingent VNS appears to reduce anxiety. The ability to generalize extinction and reduce anxiety makes VNS a potential candidate for use as an adjunctive strategy to improve the efficacy and tolerability of exposure-based therapies.
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    Vagus Nerve Stimulation Reverses the Extinction Impairments in a Model of PTSD with Prolonged and Repeated Trauma
    (Taylor and Francis Ltd, 2019-04-23) Souza, Rimenez R.; Robertson, Nicole M.; Pruitt, David T.; Gonzales, Phillip A.; Hays, Seth A.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; McIntyre, Crista K.; 0000-0003-4225-241X (Hays, SA); 13146094343400332984 (Hays, SA); Souza, Rimenez R.; Robertson, Nicole M.; Pruitt, David T.; Gonzales, Phillip A.; Hays, Seth A.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; McIntyre, Crista K.
    We have shown that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) enhances extinction of conditioned fear and reduces anxiety in rat models of PTSD using moderate stress. However, it is still unclear if VNS can be effective in enhancing extinction of severe fear after prolonged and repeated trauma. Severe fear was induced in adult male rats by combining single prolonged stress (SPS) and protracted aversive conditioning (PAC). After SPS and PAC procedures, rats were implanted with stimulating cuff electrodes, exposed to five days of extinction training with or without VNS, and then tested for extinction retention, return of fear in a new context and reinstatement. The elevated plus maze, open field and startle were used to test anxiety. Sham rats showed no reduction of fear during extensive extinction training. VNS-paired with extinction training reduced freezing at the last extinction session by 70% compared to sham rats. VNS rats exhibited half as much fear as shams, as well as less fear renewal. Sham rats exhibited significantly more anxiety than naive controls, whereas VNS rats did not. These results demonstrate that VNS enhances extinction and reduces anxiety in a severe model of PTSD that combined SPS and a conditioning procedure that is 30 times more intense than the conditioning procedures in previous VNS studies. The broad utility of VNS in enhancing extinction learning in rats and the strong clinical safety record of VNS suggest that VNS holds promise as an adjuvant to exposure-based therapy in people with PTSD and other complex forms of this condition. ©2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
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    Enhancing Plasticity in Central Networks Improves Motor and Sensory Recovery after Nerve Damage
    (Springer Nature, 2019-12-19) Meyers, Eric C.; Kasliwal, Nimit; Solorzano, Bleyda R.; Lai, Elaine; Bendale, Geetanjali; Berry, Abigail; Ganzer, Patrick D.; Romero-Ortega, Mario; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; Hays, Seth A.; 0000-0002-2013-5450 (Meyers, EC); 0000-0001-6314-9062 (Kasliwal, N); 0000-0003-2576-2629 (Romero-Ortega, M); 0000-0003-4225-241X (Hays, SA); Meyers, Eric C.; Kasliwal, Nimit; Solorzano, Bleyda R.; Lai, Elaine; Bendale, Geetanjali; Berry, Abigail; Ganzer, Patrick D.; Romero-Ortega, Mario; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; Hays, Seth A.
    Nerve damage can cause chronic, debilitating problems including loss of motor control and paresthesia, and generates maladaptive neuroplasticity as central networks attempt to compensate for the loss of peripheral connectivity. However, it remains unclear if this is a critical feature responsible for the expression of symptoms. Here, we use brief bursts of closed-loop vagus nerve stimulation (CL-VNS) delivered during rehabilitation to reverse the aberrant central plasticity resulting from forelimb nerve transection. CL-VNS therapy drives extensive synaptic reorganization in central networks paralleled by improved sensorimotor recovery without any observable changes in the nerve or muscle. Depleting cortical acetylcholine blocks the plasticity-enhancing effects of CL-VNS and consequently eliminates recovery, indicating a critical role for brain circuits in recovery. These findings demonstrate that manipulations to enhance central plasticity can improve sensorimotor recovery and define CL-VNS as a readily translatable therapy to restore function after nerve damage.
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    A Suite of Automated Tools to Quantify Hand and Wrist Motor Function after Cervical Spinal Cord Injury
    (BioMed Central Ltd.) Grasse, Katelyn M.; Hays, Seth A.; Rahebi, Kimiya C.; Warren, Victoria S.; Garcia, Elizabeth A.; Wigginton, Jane G.; Kilgardi Mchael P.; Rennaker, Robert L.; 0000-0003-4225-241X (Hays, SA); 13146094343400332984 (Hays, SA); Grasse, Katelyn M.; Hays, Seth A.; Rahebi, Kimiya C.; Warren, Victoria S.; Garcia, Elizabeth A.; Wigginton, Jane G.; Kilgard, Michael P.; Rennaker, Robert L.
    Background: Cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI) often causes chronic upper extremity disability. Reliable measurement of arm function is critical for development of therapies to improve recovery after cSCI. In this study, we report a suite of automated rehabilitative tools to allow simple, quantitative assessment of hand and wrist motor function. Methods: We measured range of motion and force production using these devices in cSCI participants with a range of upper limb disability and in neurologically intact participants at two time points separated by approximately 4 months. Additionally, we determined whether measures collected with the rehabilitative tools correlated with standard upper limb assessments, including the Graded Redefined Assessment of Strength, Sensibility, and Prehension (GRASSP) and the Jebsen Hand Function Test (JHFT). Results: We find that the rehabilitative devices are useful to provide assessment of upper limb function in physical units over time in SCI participants and are well-correlated with standard assessments. Conclusions: These results indicate that these tools represent a reliable system for longitudinal evaluation of upper extremity function after cSCI and may provide a framework to assess the efficacy of strategies aimed at improving recovery of upper limb function. ©2019 The Author(s).
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    Closed-Loop Neuromodulation Restores Network Connectivity and Motor Control After Spinal Cord Injury
    (eLife Sciences Publications Ltd) Ganzer, Patrick D.; Darrow, Michael J.; Meyers, Eric C.; Solorzano, Bleyda R.; Ruiz, Andrea D.; Robertson, Nicole M.; Adcock, Katherine S.; James, Justin T.; Jeong, Han S.; Becker, April M.; Goldberg, Mark P.; Pruitt, David T.; Hays, Seth A.; Kilgard, Michael P.; Rennaker, Robert L. II; Ganzer, Patrick D.; Darrow, Michael J.; Meyers, Eric C.; Solorzano, Bleyda R.; Ruiz, Andrea D.; Robertson, Nicole M.; Adcock, Katherine S.; James, Justin T.; Jeong, Han S.; Pruitt, David T.; Hays, Seth A.; Kilgard, Michael P.; Rennaker, Robert L. II
    Recovery from serious neurological injury requires substantial rewiring of neural circuits. Precisely-timed electrical stimulation could be used to restore corrective feedback mechanisms and promote adaptive plasticity after neurological insult, such as spinal cord injury (SCI) or stroke. This study provides the first evidence that closed-loop vagus nerve stimulation (CLV) based on the synaptic eligibility trace leads to dramatic recovery from the most common forms of SCI. The addition of CLV to rehabilitation promoted substantially more recovery of forelimb function compared to rehabilitation alone following chronic unilateral or bilateral cervical SCI in a rat model. Triggering stimulation on the most successful movements is critical to maximize recovery. CLV enhances recovery by strengthening synaptic connectivity from remaining motor networks to the grasping muscles in the forelimb. The benefits of CLV persist long after the end of stimulation because connectivity in critical neural circuits has been restored.
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    Pairing Sound with Vagus Nerve Stimulation Modulates Cortical Synchrony and Phase Coherence in Tinnitus: An Exploratory Retrospective Study
    (Nature Publishing Group) Vanneste, Sven; Martin, Jeffrey S.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.; 0000 0001 2879 2132 (Rennaker, RL); 0000 0001 3852 473X (Kilgard, MP); 0000-0002-9906-1836 (Vanneste, S); Vanneste, Sven; Martin, Jeffrey S.; Rennaker, Robert L.; Kilgard, Michael P.
    Recent research has shown that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) paired with tones or with rehabilitative training can help patients to achieve reductions in tinnitus perception or to expedite motor rehabilitation after suffering an ischemic stroke. The rationale behind this treatment is that VNS paired with experience can drive neural plasticity in a controlled and therapeutic direction. Since previous studies observed that gamma activity in the auditory cortex is correlated with tinnitus loudness, we assessed resting-state source-localized EEG before and after one to three months of VNS-tone pairing in chronic tinnitus patients. VNS-tone pairing reduced gamma band activity in left auditory cortex. VNStone pairing also reduced the phase coherence between the auditory cortex and areas associated with tinnitus distress, including the cingulate cortex. These results support the hypothesis that VNS-tone pairing can direct therapeutic neural plasticity. Targeted plasticity therapy might also be adapted to treat other conditions characterized by hypersynchronous neural activity.
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    Retinal Architecture and Melanopsin-Mediated Pupillary Response Characteristics a Putative Pathophysiologic Signature for the Retino-Hypothalamic Tract in Multiple Sclerosis
    (American Medical Assoc) Meltzer, Ethan; Sguigna, Peter V.; Subei, Adnan; Beh, Shin; Kildebeck, Eric; Conger, Darrel; Conger, Amy; Lucero, Marlen; Frohman, Benjamin S.; Frohman, Ashley N.; Saidha, Shiv; Galetta, Steven; Calabresi, Peter A.; Rennaker, Robert; Frohman, Teresa C.; Kardon, Randy H.; Balcer, Laura J.; Frohman, Elliot M.; Kildebeck, Eric; Rennaker, Robert; Frohman, Elliot M.
    IMPORTANCE A neurophysiologic signature of the melanopsin-mediated persistent constriction phase of the pupillary light reflex may represent a surrogate biomarker for the integrity of the retinohypothalamic tract, with potential utility for investigating alterations in homeostatic mechanisms associated with brain disorders and implications for identifying new treatments. OBJECTIVE To characterize abnormalities of retinal architecture in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and corresponding alterations in the melanopsin-mediated sustained pupillary constriction response. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS The case-control study was an experimental assessment of various stimulus-induced pupillary response characteristics and was conducted at a university clinical center for MS from September 6, 2012, to February 2015. Twenty-four patients with MS (48 eyes) and 15 individuals serving as controls (30 eyes) participated. The melanopsin-mediated, sustained pupillary constriction phase response following cessation of a blue light stimulus was compared with the photoreceptor-mediated pupillary constriction phase response following cessation of a red light stimulus. Optical coherence tomography was used to characterize the association between pupillary response characteristics and alterations in retinal architecture, specifically, the thickness of the retinal ganglion cell layer and inner plexiform layer (GCL + IPL). MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Association of pupillary response characteristics with alterations in retinal architecture. RESULTS Of 24 patients with MS included in the analysis, 17 were women (71%); mean (SD) age was 47 (11) years. Compared with eyes from individuals with MS who had normal optical coherence tomography-derived measures of retinal GCL + IPL thickness, eyes of patients who had GCL + IPL thickness reductions to less than the first percentile exhibited a correspondingly significant attenuation of the melanopsin-mediated sustained pupillary response (mean [SD] pupillary diameter ratios at a point in time, 0.18 [0.1] vs 0.33 [0.09]; P < .001, generalized estimating equation models accounting for age and within-patient intereye correlations). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE In this case-control study, attenuation of the melanopsin-mediated sustained pupillary constriction response was significantly associated with thinning of the GCL + IPL sector of the retina in the eyes of patients with MS, particularly those with a history of acute optic neuritis. Melanopsin-containing ganglion cells in the retina represent, at least in part, the composition of the retinohypothalamic tract. As such, our findings may signify the ability to elucidate a putative surrogate neurophysiologic signature that correlates with a constellation of homeostatic mechanisms in both health and illness.
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    Effects of Vagus Nerve Stimulation on Extinction of Conditioned Fear and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Rats
    Noble, Lindsey J.; Gonzalez, I. J.; Meruva, V. B.; Callahan, Kathleen A.; Belfort, Benjamin D.; Ramanathan, K. R.; Meyers, Eric; Kilgard, Michael P.; Rennaker, Robert L.; McIntyre, Christa K.; Noble, Lindsey J.; Gonzalez, I. J.; Meruva, V. B.; Callahan, Kathleen A.; Belfort, Benjamin D.; Ramanathan, K. R.; Meyers, Eric; Kilgard, Michael P.; Rennaker, Robert L.; McIntyre, Christa K.
    Exposure-based therapies help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to extinguish conditioned fear of trauma reminders. However, controlled laboratory studies indicate that PTSD patients do not extinguish conditioned fear as well as healthy controls, and exposure therapy has high failure and dropout rates. The present study examined whether vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) augments extinction of conditioned fear and attenuates PTSD-like symptoms in an animal model of PTSD. To model PTSD, rats were subjected to a single prolonged stress (SPS) protocol, which consisted of restraint, forced swim, loss of consciousness, and 1 week of social isolation. Like PTSD patients, rats subjected to SPS show impaired extinction of conditioned fear. The SPS procedure was followed, 1 week later, by auditory fear conditioning (AFC) and extinction. VNS or sham stimulation was administered during half of the extinction days, and was paired with presentations of the conditioned stimulus. One week after completion of extinction training, rats were given a battery of behavioral tests to assess anxiety, arousal and avoidance. Results indicated that rats given SPS 1 week prior to AFC (PTSD model) failed to extinguish the freezing response after eleven consecutive days of extinction. Administration of VNS reversed the extinction impairment and attenuated reinstatement of the conditioned fear response. Delivery of VNS during extinction also eliminated the PTSD-like symptoms, such as anxiety, hyperarousal and social avoidance for more than 1 week after VNS treatment. These results provide evidence that extinction paired with VNS treatment can lead to remission of fear and improvements in PTSD-like symptoms. Taken together, these findings suggest that VNS may be an effective adjunct to exposure therapy for the treatment of PTSD.
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    A Within-Animal Comparison of Skilled Forelimb Assessments in Rats
    (Public Library of Science) Sloan, Andrew M.; Fink, Melyssa K.; Rodriguez, Amber J.; Lovitz, Adam M.; Khodaparast, Navid; Rennaker, Robert L.; Hays, Seth A.; 0000 0001 2879 2132 (Rennaker, RL)
    A variety of skilled reaching tasks have been developed to evaluate forelimb function in rodent models. The single pellet skilled reaching task and pasta matrix task have provided valuable insight into recovery of forelimb function in models of neurological injury and disease. Recently, several automated measures have been developed to reduce the cost and time burden of forelimb assessment in rodents. Here, we provide a within-subject comparison of three common forelimb assessments to allow direct evaluation of sensitivity and efficiency across tasks. Rats were trained to perform the single pellet skilled reaching task, the pasta matrix task, and the isometric pull task. Once proficient on all three tasks, rats received an ischemic lesion of motor cortex and striatum to impair use of the trained limb. On the second week post-lesion, all three tasks measured a significant deficit in forelimb function. Performance was well-correlated across tasks. By the sixth week post-lesion, only the isometric pull task measured a significant deficit in forelimb function, suggesting that this task is more sensitive to chronic impairments. The number of training days required to reach asymptotic performance was longer for the isometric pull task, but the total experimenter time required to collect and analyze data was substantially lower. These findings suggest that the isometric pull task represents an efficient, sensitive measure of forelimb function to facilitate preclinical evaluation in models of neurological injury and disease.
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    Speech Sound Processing Deficits and Training-Induced Neural Plasticity in Rats with Dyslexia Gene Knockdown
    (Public Library of Science) Centanni, Tracy M.; Chen, Fuyi; Booker, Anne M.; Engineer, Crystal T.; Sloan, Andrew M.; Rennaker, Robert L.; LoTurco, Joseph J.; Kilgard, Michael P.; 0000 0001 3852 473X (Kilgard, MP); 0000 0001 2879 2132 (Rennaker, RL)
    In utero RNAi of the dyslexia-associated gene Kiaa0319 in rats (KIA-) degrades cortical responses to speech sounds and increases trial-by-trial variability in onset latency. We tested the hypothesis that KIA- rats would be impaired at speech sound discrimination. KIA- rats needed twice as much training in quiet conditions to perform at control levels and remained impaired at several speech tasks. Focused training using truncated speech sounds was able to normalize speech discrimination in quiet and background noise conditions. Training also normalized trial-by-trial neural variability and temporal phase locking. Cortical activity from speech trained KIA- rats was sufficient to accurately discriminate between similar consonant sounds. These results provide the first direct evidence that assumed reduced expression of the dyslexia-associated gene KIAA0319 can cause phoneme processing impairments similar to those seen in dyslexia and that intensive behavioral therapy can eliminate these impairments. ;
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    Studies in RF Power Communication, SAR, and Temperature Elevation in Wireless Implantable Neural Interfaces
    Zhao, Y.; Tang, L.; Rennaker, Robert L., II; Hutchens, C.; Ibrahim, T. S.; 0000 0001 2879 2132 (Rennaker, RL)
    Implantable neural interfaces are designed to provide a high spatial and temporal precision control signal implementing high degree of freedom real-time prosthetic systems. The development of a Radio Frequency (RF) wireless neural interface has the potential to expand the number of applications as well as extend the robustness and longevity compared to wired neural interfaces. However, it is well known that RF signal is absorbed by the body and can result in tissue heating. In this work, numerical studies with analytical validations are performed to provide an assessment of power, heating and specific absorption rate (SAR) associated with the wireless RF transmitting within the human head. The receiving antenna on the neural interface is designed with different geometries and modeled at a range of implanted depths within the brain in order to estimate the maximum receiving power without violating SAR and tissue temperature elevation safety regulations. Based on the size of the designed antenna, sets of frequencies between 1 GHz to 4 GHz have been investigated. As expected the simulations demonstrate that longer receiving antennas (dipole) and lower working frequencies result in greater power availability prior to violating SAR regulations. For a 15 mm dipole antenna operating at 1.24 GHz on the surface of the brain, 730 uW of power could be harvested at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) SAR violation limit. At approximately 5 cm inside the head, this same antenna would receive 190 uW of power prior to violating SAR regulations. Finally, the 3-D bio-heat simulation results show that for all evaluated antennas and frequency combinations we reach FCC SAR limits well before 1 °C. It is clear that powering neural interfaces via RF is possible, but ultra-low power circuit designs combined with advanced simulation will be required to develop a functional antenna that meets all system requirements.

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