Randall J. Nelson, Ph.D.

Randall J. Nelson, Ph.D.

Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
855 Monroe Avenue, Suite 515
Memphis, TN 38163
Phone: (901) 448-5979
Fax: (901) 448-7193
Lab: 231 Wittenborg Anatomy Building
Email: Randall J. Nelson


  • Ph.D. Institution: Vanderbilt University, Department of Anatomy
  • Postdoctoral: University of California, San Francisco, Department of Otolaryngology and Physiology; NIMH, Laboratory of Neurophysiology; NIMH, Laboratory of Neuropsychology

Research Interests

Classically defined somatic sensory cortex (SI) is divided into several areas, each of which, receives short latency afferent input from cutaneous mechanoreceptors and proprioceptive elements. We have sought to determine the role of cutaneous and proprioceptive information play in the initiation and execution of active movements when this information serves as the trigger for a motor task, and whether this information is continuously available to SI cortex. Preliminary results indicate that some SI neurons, sensitive to joint manipulation, are inhibited by palmar vibratory stimulation only in the context of active movement. Presentation of the stimulus in a situation in which the animal does not intend to move doesn't result in inhibition. Other SI neurons are excited by the presentation of the vibratory stimuli but are inhibited 60-80 msec before movement. Neurons in the motor cortex exhibit peak discharge at this time and it is also the time when psychophysical thresholds for tactile perception in humans is elevated.

Recent recordings in the neostriatum, an area known to be involved in the initiation and execution of movement, indicate that neurons often modulate their activity well before the motor cortex or SI. Neurons in the neostriatum commonly fire differently depending upon the current behavioral context in which an animal is engaged.

These results indicate that the cells in SI cortex may be under the influence of centrally as well as peripherally generated inhibitory mechanisms. We conclude that these are centrally generated because one type exists only in the context of movement and the second occurs at about the same time as motor cortex activity and thus, maybe due to efference copy mechanisms. The neostriatal regions activated early before movement are among the candidates for the sources of these centrally-generated influences. An understanding of normal mechanisms of the control of somatic sensation is one of the first steps toward the ability to determine what dysfunctions occur during stroke and how retraining may help to ameliorate deficits.

Representative Publications

  • Hansen BC, Gografe S, Pritt S, Jen KC, McWhirter CA, Barman SM, Comuzzie A, Greene M, McNulty JA, Michele DE, Moaddab N, Nelson RJ, Norris K, Uray KD, Banks R, Westlund KN, Yates BJ, Silverman J, Hansen KD, Redman B. Ensuring due process in the IACUC and animal welfare setting: considerations in developing noncompliance policies and procedures for institutional animal care and use committees and institutional officials. FASEB J. 2017 Oct;31(10):4216-4225. doi: 10.1096/fj.201601250R. Epub 2017 Aug 15. Review. PubMed PMID: 28821637.
  • Opris I, Lebedev MA, Nelson RJ. Neostriatal Neuronal Activity Correlates Better with Movement Kinematics under Certain Rewards. Front Neurosci. 2016 Aug 5;10:336. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2016.00336. eCollection 2016. PubMed PMID: 27579022; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4986930.
  • Nelson RJ. Response to Protocol Review scenario: should no good deed go unpunished? Lab Anim (NY). 2011 Oct 20;40(11):338-9. doi: 10.1038/laban1111-338b. PubMed PMID: 22012193.
  • Nelson RJ. Behavioral studies and the IACUC: challenges and opportunities. ILAR J. 2009;50(1):81-4. PubMed PMID: 19106454.
  • Liu Y, Denton JM, Nelson RJ. Monkey primary somatosensory cortical activity during the early reaction time period differs with cues that guide movements. Exp Brain Res. 2008 May;187(3):349-58. doi: 10.1007/s00221-008-1307-y. Epub 2008 Feb 21. PubMed PMID: 18288475; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2727935.
  • Liu Y, Denton JM, Nelson RJ. Neuronal activity in monkey primary somatosensory cortex is related to expectation of somatosensory and visual go-cues. Exp Brain Res. 2007 Mar;177(4):540-50. Epub 2006 Sep 28. PubMed PMID: 17006686.

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