Susan Harkema, Ph.D.

Photo of Susan Harkema, Ph.D.
  1. Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, Anatomical Sciences & Neurobiology
  2. Associate Director, Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center.
  3. Director of Research, Frazier Rehabilitation Institute.
  4. Director, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s Neurorecovery Network
  5. Rehabilitation Research Director, Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center
  6. Owsley B. Frazier Chair in Neurological Rehabilitation

Phone: 502-852-8060

E-mail Susan Harkema

Research Focus:

Our primary research aim is to understand neural mechanisms responsible for human locomotion and the level of plasticity after neurologic injury. The primary focus is to study the plasticity of the human lumbosacral spinal cord in individuals with spinal cord injury during locomotor training. We step individuals on a treadmill with body weight support and manual assistance to maintain the normal kinematics and kinetics of walking. Locomotor training is based on providing appropriate sensory information specific to locomotion to the neuronal circuits in the spinal cord. This sensory feedback can be interpreted and integrated by the neural circuitry in the human spinal cord and alter the efferent motor patterns during stepping. Repetitive locomotor training may promote spinal learning and strengthen the neural circuitry responsible for locomotion. Our studies emphasize the importance of basic neural principles of locomotion that are applicable to all animals. The results of these studies contribute to the knowledge about the fundamental mechanisms of control of human locomotion and may provide strategies than can be used by physical therapists for the rehabilitation of walking for patients after neurologic injury.

    Click to view all of Dr. Harkema's publications on PubMed

    Key Publications:

    Harkema SJ, Gerasimenko Y, Hodes J, Burdick J, Angeli C, Chen Y, Ferreira C, Wilhite A, Reic E, Grossman RG, Edgerton VE. (2011) Effect of epidural stimulation of the lumbosacral spinal cord on voluntary movement, standing, and assisted stepping after motor complete paraplegia: a case study.  Lancet 377:1938-1947.

    McKay WB, Ovechkin AV, Vitas TW, Terson De Paleville D, Harkema SJ.  Neurophysiological Characterization of Motor Recovery in Acute Spinal Cord Injury.  Spinal Cord.

    Galvez JA, Budovitch A, Harkema SJ, Reinkensmeyer DJ. (2011) Trainer variability during step training after spinal cord injury: Implications for robotic gait training device design. J Rehabil Res Dev. 48(2):147-60.


    Harkema SJ, Behrman AL, Barbeau H. Locomotor Training: Principles and Practice, Oxford Press, May 2011.

    Dy CJ, Gerasimenko YP, Edgerton VR, Dyhre-Poulsen P, Courtine G, and Harkema SJ. (2010) Phase dependent modulation of percutaneously elicited multisegmental muscle responses after spinal cord injury. J Neurophysiol. May; 103(5):2808-20.

    McKay WB, Ovechkin AV, Vitaz TW, Terson De Paleville D, Harkema SJ.  (2010) Long-lasting Involuntary Motor Activity in Acute Spinal Cord Injury.  Spinal Cord 49(1):87-93.