Associate Professor of Biology

B.A. - Amherst College
Ph.D. - Northwestern University

Phone - 434-284-0543
Fax - 540-568-3333
Office - Bioscience 2028H

Office Hours

CoursesNeurobiology (BIO 445/550), Experimental Neurobiology (446/546), Trelawny Seminar (201)

Research Interests:  Neurobiology of Spatial Sensorimotor Integration

Imagine a not-so-friendly bug walking up your leg. Fortunately, touch sensory receptors in your skin signal the central nervous system about the presence – and importantly – the location of the bug. The CNS then integrates the sensory information into a motor plan that allows to you to deftly sway the bug away with your hand. Similarly, if you touch a hot pan on the stove you need the location of the heat in order to determine which direction to move your hand.

The overall goal of our research is to understand the strategies and mechanisms by which spatial sensory information is used by the nervous system to plan movement. As with most neuroscience research, we attack the problem using simple models systems – the nociceptive withdrawal response (NWR) in the rat and escape response in insects and spiders. In most of our experiments we inflict an aversive stimulus on the animal (for example, propel a ball at a cricket or heat the paw of rat) which results in a rapid escape or withdrawal. We then change the location or direction of the stimulus and ask our key question – how does location influence the response direction and magnitude. Currently we use diverse techniques - behavioral (high speed video at up to 2000 frames/second), electrophysiological (recording muscle activity), computational and computer simulations. Our results will help us to understand the strategies by which animals use sensory information to plan movements. In the rat, improved understanding of the neural strategies may lead improvement in the treatment of spinal cord injury and brain-machine interfaces for movement control.

Jiangda, O*, and Cleland, CL (2019) Escape strategies of the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) in response to looming and localized heat stimuli. Submitted to Journal of Insect Behavior, 6/28/2019

Michaelsen AN* and Cleland CL (2019) Kinematic determinants of scoring success in the fencing flick: Logistic and linear multiple regression analysis. PLOS One, accepted for publication

Bence CM* and Cleland CL (2019) The nociceptive withdrawal response of the tail in spinalized rat employs a hybrid categorical-continuous spatial mapping strategy. Experimental Brain Research, 237:551-1561,

Cleland CL (2018) Amazing Papers in Neuroscience: Characteristics, Emergent Properties and Functions of Somato-dendritic T and L Type Calcium Channels, Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education,16: R39–R43.

Cleland, C.L., Esquivel, CE*, Davis, HT* (2017) The Nociceptive Withdrawal Response of the Foot in the Spinalized Rat Exhibits Limited Dependence on Stimulus Location, Experimental Brain Research, 235, 2027–2038,

Wheeler MA, Heffner DL, Kim S, Cleland C.L., Deppmann C.D. (2014) TNFα and TNFR1 signaling regulates the structure and function of nociceptive circuits. Neuron; 82:587-602

*undergraduate co-author


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