We're a little crazy, about science!

Journal club

Okay, get this I completely skipped over the fact that my Co-PI started a “journal club” for our little lab. I say little because for the longest time it was just the two of us and the research coordinator (who is amazing by the way!), but now we have not one, but two others in the lab. It’s nice not having to do a lot of extra work, but different topic for another time. We formed a journal club a short 8 weeks ago and every other week one of us sends out a research paper they find interesting about a week prior to our biweekly meetings and then that person presents on it. This week it’s my turn and of course, the universe is against me.

Part of being a PhD candidate is keeping up with the state of the art. The neuroengineering field I research in is tiny, but the field my Co-PI is a part of is even tinier. My Co-PI was actually one of the handful of people who started research in this topic (non-invasive spinal stimulation, it’s cool stuff) and while more labs are getting into the research, here in the US there are only a handful of labs doing the work. So we end up knowing each other or at least knowing “of” each other. Since we’re a mix of neuroscience, biology, engineering, etc. there are lots of overlap with different fields that we need to be aware of because it changes how we do our experiments and creates new questions for us to answer. So we have journal club to help us keep up with the field.

Since it was my turn, I knew just the paper. You see, my Co-PI and I have had a disagreement for… oh roughly two years now about a particular point in research. I firmly believe the conclusions found in several different papers using several different modalities all point to a basic fact about the spinal cord, but interestingly no one has actually drawn that particular conclusion. It’s not a secret so I’ll share and it’s kind of a moot point, you’ll see why in a minute.

The paper I selected wasn’t “new” exactly, but it was the state of the art. Notice the was, we’ll get to that. It’s actually a paper I reviewed at the beginning of the year (here). To be fair the paper is a little over a year old (since publication), but the topic was interesting and more importantly it was a good example of the spinal cord behavior I was arguing about with my Co-PI. So like any good researcher, I wanted to get more opinions on it. Thus at the beginning of the week I announced that I would be doing my presentation on this paper, but I made no mention of my thoughts on what we were actually seeing. I didn’t want to bias anyone going in and the new people in the lab have no idea about this disagreement even though my Co-PI and I tease each other about it from time to time.

To make sure I was ready, I reviewed the paper, put together a nice little slideshow with the main takeaways, and I was set. That is, until yesterday. The universe hates me, it really does. I spent all that time and work to get this ready and looking professional and my Co-PI sends me an email. The research team from the study released new work… yesterday… following up on that study. Of course they did.

Had it been today that the paper was released I would’ve been just fine reviewing the previous work. Now I’m going to be reviewing the current work instead. I’ve already read over the study for the most part and spent most of yesterday thinking about the extension of the previous work, their new conclusions, and how I feel about all of it. Interestingly they come to a very similar conclusion I had come to already and (to my knowledge) they are the first to make this claim in a journal paper. While I doubt this will end the argument spirited disagreement that my Co-PI and I have had about this behavior it’s nice to see someone else coming to similar conclusions about the circuitry of the spinal cord.

The downside is that I did all that work for nothing, tomorrow is our journal club meeting, and I need to redo my slides. I also need to be ready for a light hearted grilling about the work. I’ve known my Co-PI for several years now so I know what’s coming already, so theoretically I should have a leg up from the others who already presented in the previous weeks. However, now that I’m reviewing a brand new paper for tomorrow with little prep, that may not be the case anymore. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes, but in summary the universe hates me. I mean what are the odds that an updated paper would get released just days before I present on the work?

The new paper “Simultaneous Cervical and Lumbar Spinal Cord Stimulation Induces Facilitation of Both Spinal and Corticospinal Circuitry in Humans” extends on the previous work from the lab and you can read it to find out more, but as I mentioned, they come to a similar conclusion about the circuitry of the spinal cord that I came to when I was reviewing other literature. The disagreement my Co-PI and I have can be summed up like this, I believe there is an inhibitory effect from propriospinal interneurons, such that if the cervical enlargement is being activated, we would see a suppression in responses from the lumbar enlargement. Or put more succinctly, I believe that (generally speaking) there is an inverse relationship between the cortical and lumbar spinal cord so if one enlargement is active the other is suppressed or greatly reduced (again generally speaking, there are probably cases where this is not the case). There are several examples of this effect, namely the two papers we’ve been talking about here along with others (here)(here)(and here).

He’s somewhat skeptical of this claim because of how broad I’m being, but the frustrating part for me is that while a lot of evidence points to this relationship, researchers tend to point out the consequences (IE suppression of H-reflex when the arms are moving) without suggesting the cause for this relationship. Then again I tend to make larger claims than most would feel comfortable making and I would not make such claims in a paper, so I get why this is the case, but I also know that the evidence for this relationship is pretty extensive so I wasn’t super surprised when this paper finally said what I’ve been saying for the past few years, of course they did it in a more elegant than I would be able to do (at least verbally) but they say:

“Strengthened presynaptic inhibition projecting to Ia cervical afferent terminals is likely the primary contributor to this suppression, although reciprocal and recurrent inhibition may also contribute to the effect.”


I’m sure this won’t be the end of the debate between my Co-PI and I, but it’s nice to have further confirmation of an idea I’ve had for some time now. Quick side note before we end today’s post, the debate is more for fun than anything serious., My Co-PI likes to run his lab as all of us being equal. I liken it to us working together not working for him, so when I say we’re debating about this, it’s for fun and not anything super serious.

Okay, well that’s how my day is shaping up. Time to go do some study reviewing then update my slides. (Stupid universe!)


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