Kathleen E. Cullen PhD

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

kathleen.cullen@jhu.edu
Telephone Number: 410-955-3132
Fax Number: 410-502-9814

Department of Biomedical Engineering
Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine
720 Rutland Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21205
Room: 702
Areas of Research
Systems, Cognitive + Computational Neuroscience

Graduate Program Affiliations

Biomedical Engineering Program

Neuroscience Training Program

Neural mechanisms underlying the computation of Self-Motion: understanding and advancing the treatment of vestibular and other motor disorders


The central goal of my research is to understand how the brain integrates multisensory information to ensure the maintenance of balance and posture, as well as perceptual stability in everyday life. Specifically, my lab studies the neural encoding of vestibular information, and how this information is combined with proprioceptive, visual, and motor signals to generate neural representations of our motion. Our work has significant implications for both understanding and advancing the treatment of vestibular and other motor disorders.

 The research in my laboratory has three key objectives:

(1) The quantification and targeted manipulation of neurons in areas of the brainstem, cerebellum, thalamus and cortex that play an essential role in vestibular processing.  This approach is fundamental to our understanding of how the brain processes complex multisensory information. For example, we recently discovered how single cerebellar neurons selectively encode unexpected motion to ensure our balance – consider recovering from a slip on an icy sidewalk. Combining advanced neuronal recording approaches with multi-dimensional motion and virtual reality platforms, our research addresses the question of how does the brain ensures postural and  perceptual stability during everyday life. This work includes neurophysiology in awake behaving mice as well as macaques, and incorporates novel experimental and computational approaches.

(2) Studies of vestibular/balance disorders in macaques and patients. Our neurophysiology experiments in macaques are aimed at understanding how the brain recovers from peripheral vestibular disease and injury. We are also working in this model to optimize a novel vestibular prosthesis with other neurologists, physical therapists, biomedical engineers, and neuroscientists. By linking improvements in prosthetic driven behavior to specific changes in neuronal activities at different stages of processing in the vestibular system, we can establish methods to successively restore vestibular labyrinth function in patients. We are also assessing differences in the vestibular input experienced by healthy subjects versus patients during typical everyday activities to develop novel rehabilitation and behavioral training treatment approaches.

(3) The development of transformative molecular and genetic approaches to advance basic and clinical research on the vestibular system. In collaboration with colleagues at McGill , we are now combining state-of-the-art molecular techniques with neuronal ensemble recording and optogenetic-based approaches. Our aim is to bridge the gap between genes, neuronal circuits, and behavior, to improve the brain’s ability to compensate

 In summary, my lab’s interdisciplinary research program embeds both basic and clinical research on the core topics: vertigo and dizziness, gait and posture, and spatial orientation disorders. As a result, our work has significant short and long-term implications for improving the lives of patients with vertigo, balance, and movement disorders.

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