The Reynolds Lab @ VCU

Stacey Reynolds, PhD, OTR/L Associate Professor Department of Occupational TherapyVirginia Commonwealth University

Office Location: 730 E. Broad Street, Theater Row Building, Rm. 2050D

Office Phone: (804)828-2288

Lab Location: 527 N. 12th Street, Strauss Research Building, Rm


Research Statement:

Mechanisms Underlying Sensory Processing and Motor Deficits: Atypical sensory processing and motor impairments are observed in a majority of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and up to 100% of children with autism spectrum disorders. Sensory behaviors include under-responding, over-responding, or craving intense levels of sensory stimuli. Motor impairments include alterations in muscle tone, gait, coordination, and repetitive or stereotyped motor behaviors. These atypical sensory and motor features interfere with all normal functions of daily living, including educational, communicative and socializing activities.

Most therapeutic interventions for atypical sensory and motor processing focus upon providing opportunities for engagement in sensory-enriched conditions as well as planning and executing functional motor skills. This approach has yielded treatment programs that are partially effective for many patients, and sensory-motor therapies are clearly the treatment of choice by many clinicians and parents. However, there is a potential to design novel treatments for these behaviors which target causal mechanisms.

Accordingly, we have focused our research efforts upon identification of neurodevelopmental and neuropathological variables that may underlie the development of atypical sensory and motor behaviors across neurodevelopmental disorders. We are particularly interested in is how timed teratogenic exposure during human pre-natal development effects developmental gene expression, neuron morphology, and refinement of cortical synapses.

We are studying the effects of timed teratogenic exposure in an animal (rat) model. In our model, rats exposed to the teratogen valproate during early post-natal development (equivalent to the human 3rd trimester) demonstrate impairments in sensory gating, sensory responsivity and impaired motor coordination and planning; characteristics often seen in individuals with autism. We are currently investigating 1) neuron morphology that may underlie these phenotypic manifestations, 2) pharmacological and behavioral therapies to ameliorate these conditions, and 3) changes in symptom manifestation based on dose and timing of insult.

Facilities and Equipment:

Est. in 2012, the Reynolds laboratory is located in the Jerome F. Strauss III Building on the Medical College of Virginia campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The lab suite includes 4 rooms for rodent housing and behavior testing (total 427 sq ft) and 4 shared procedural and storage rooms equipped with work benches, gas, externally-vented fume hood, lights, pressurized air, autoclave, refrigerator/freezer and water (total 682 sq ft).

The lab is currently equipped to execute the following behavioral testing procedures:

  • Startle Response & Pre-pulse Inhibition (SR-Lab Startle Response System with auditory, tactile, and visual cues)
  • Anxiety related behavior (Light-Dark box)
  • Exploratory Behavior (Open Field, Hole Board)
  • Motor Coordination (Rotorod, Handling Tasks)
  • Tactile Threshold (Electric Von Frey Anesthesiometer)
  • Sensory Enrichment (Enrichment cages/housing & materials)
  • Working Memory (Novel Object Test)
  • Repetitive Motor Behaviors (Repetitive grooming, Object Exploration)

Other Resources:

Imaging Core Facility. Located in the Sanger Buliding (MCV Campus), the VCU Microscopy Facility (1800 sq ft) provides services for sample preparation, immunolocalization, confocal microscopy and image analysis as well as training, technical support, assistance and consultation. It houses the Leica TCS-SP2 (AOBS) confocal laser scanning microscope and the Zeiss LSM 510 META multi-photon laser scanning microscope. Multiple computer workstations are available for image analysis.

Recent Publications:

Urruela, M., Devine, D.P., Reynolds, S. (under review) Effects of Environmental Enrichment on Repetitive Behaviors in the BTBR T+tf/J Mouse Model of Autism

Reynolds, S., Devine, D.P., & Millette, A. (in press). Sensory and motor characterization in the post-natal valproate rat model of autism. Developmental Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1159/000336646

Reynolds, S., Lane, S.J., & Richards, L. (2010). Using animal models of enriched environments to inform research on sensory integration intervention for the rehabilitation of neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 2(3), 120-132