neuroplasticity and repertoire recovery lab

The Neuroplasticity and Repertoire Repair Laboratory (NRRL) utilizes both rodent models and clinical partnerships to explore the links between behavior analysis, neuroscience, and recovery from brain injury. Our basic research lines measure and manipulate the activity of neural circuits in awake, behaving rodents to elucidate their roles in behavioral dynamics. Translational work seeks to understand the potentials for stimulation-based approaches to augment brain rewiring and rehabilitation after brain injury. Students also work to develop better behavioral measurement of stroke deficits, to better understand basic behavioral processes, and to conduct applied rehabilitation research with human brain injury patients.

Dr. April Becker, Ph.D.

Dr. April Becker, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

April Becker is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavior Analysis. She received her B.S. from Colorado State University, where she studied behavioral ecology and songbird vocalizations under Dr. Myron Baker. After working in various zoos and aquariums as an animal trainer, presenter, and caretaker, she came to Texas to earn her M.S. in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas working with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Dr. Sigrid Glenn studying motivation, creativity and cultural contingencies. Dr. Becker earned her PhD from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where her work with Dr. Mark Goldberg focused on behavioral recovery from brain injury and the use of plasticity-modulating pathways to augment rehabilitation. Dr. Becker’s research and interests have two aims: to better understand the basic mechanisms of learning and recovery from brain injury and to develop better clinical approaches to rehabilitation. 

Contact:

April.Becker@unt.edu
Department of Behavior Analysis
University of North Texas

 

Selected Publications:

Butcher, G., Davidson, A., Sloan, A., Schneider, L., Lund, A., & Becker, A. (2021). An Apparatus for Automatically Training and Collecting Individualized Behavioral Data with Socially Housed Rodents. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 109387-109387.

Becker AM, Betz DM, Goldberg MP. Forelimb Cortical Stroke Reduces Precision of Motor Control in Mice. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. 2020;34(6):475-478.

Becker, April M. “The flight of the locus of selection: Some intricate relationships between evolutionary elements.” Behavioural processes 161 (2019): 31-44.

Becker, A. M., Meyers, E., Sloan, A., Rennaker, R., Kilgard, M., & Goldberg, M. P. (2016). An automated task for the training and assessment of distal forelimb function in a mouse model of ischemic stroke. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 258, 16-23.

Lab Members
Jared Armshaw, M.S.

Jared Armshaw is a behavior analyst with research foci in behavioral neuroscience and creativity and play behavior. He is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of North Texas, conducting brain injury research. Jared is passionate about sharing research. A firm believer in collaboration, Jared is often found helping on various projects outside of his main research line. When Jared is not reading, writing, researching, or working, he is often found meandering his kayak down a river, hiking in the woods, or engaging in intellectual and lay conversations with his friends.

Marla Baltazar-Mars

Marla Baltazar-Mars is a master’s student in the Behavior Analysis program. Since joining the lab, Marla’s interest in brain injury rehabilitation has grown as she’s completed several hands-on experiences and projects. Her thesis combines her interests in verbal behavior and rehabilitation by exploring how teaching procedures may contribute to the language recovery of individuals with aphasia as a result of a brain injury. Marla’s background includes mentorship for first-generation college students and students with disabilities, research in higher education, and providing behavior-analytic services to young children with autism. Currently she is expanding her skills as a Registered Behavior Technician at Learning Services, a Neurobehavioral Rehabilitation program.

Grayson Butcher, M.S.

Grayson Butcher is a second-year doctoral student in the Health Service Research Ph.D. Program (within the Behavior Analysis concentration). He is primarily interested in basic and translational research, including the nature of conditioning, the way(s) in which neuromodulatory systems (especially the cholinergic basal forebrain) contribute to conditioning, and how to apply these findings to aid recovery following stroke and other brain injuries. He has experience with apparatus design and construction, having co-designed, built, and programmed operant chambers, manipulanda (for rodents as well as humans), social housing for rodents, and a specialized apparatus for conducting single-subject, high throughput research in a social housing environment (i.e., the One Rat Turnstile, ORT). Grayson is also interested in a number of other topics, including instructional design, clinical behavior analysis (particularly Goldiamond’s constructional approach), verbal behavior, and the philosophy and methodology of behavioral science. 

Madison Card

Madison Card also referred to as Sonny, began her professional career in the performing arts. She developed choreographic works and performed dance styles such as ballet, pointe, modern, West African, and Ballet Folclorico. After attending the California Institute of Arts in pursuit of a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she learned about the application of dance in cognitive neuroscience research. Sonny’s area of interest shifted from the production of movement art through dance to motor training-induced neuroplasticity. At the University of North Texas, she studies as a McNair Scholar and Undergraduate Research Fellow investigating the cognitive differences in individuals with dance training. After earning her Bachelor of Science in the spring of 2022, she will pursue a Ph.D. in psychology with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience.

Sophia Kirkland
Rachel Krilcich
Hi! My name is Rachel Krilcich. I am a third-year master’s student here at UNT.
I joined Dr. Becker’s lab because I came from a very autism-applied undergraduate program and knew even then that the clinic is not where my reinforcement lies. Therefore, my undergraduate advisor recommended UNT to me, knowing that I’d eventually find my niche within the field (glad to say, I think I have). I really enjoy Dr. Becker and Dr. Ortu’s labs, because learning about the science of our field has been so reinforcing.
I currently am working on my thesis with Dr. Becker investigating the effects of teaching on response allocation with rats.
 
Along with Behavioral neuroscience, I am most interested in Health, Sports, and Fitness, specifically the application of using ABA in injury prevention and skill refinement. 
Carlos Lopez, M.S.

Carlos Lopez is a first-year doctoral student in the Health Science Ph.D. Program (within the Behavior Analysis concentration). He is interested in basic and translational research that investigates different areas of social behavior. Carlos is currently investigating the role of oxytocin on social consequences. He is also an active member of the Evolutionary Culture Lab where he loves to discuss concepts pertaining to biological and social systems, multi-level selection, and the fundamental framework of radical behaviorism. He is also conducting an experiment within the lab that further explores the metacontingency.  Carlos earned a traineeship in UNT’s prestigious G-RISE NIH training program, which supports his doctoral studies. 

Stephon Primous
Lab Alumni
Selena Cruz, M.S.

Selena Cruz, MS, CBIS, received a Master’s degree in Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas in 2021 and a Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Kansas in 2017. During her time in the Neuroplasticity and Repertoire Restoration Lab, she built connections with local neurorehabilitation centers through her work as a nurse aide with the brain and spinal cord injury population. Her Master’s thesis, “Use of a Virtual Reality Gaming System to Improve Balance in Individuals with Chronic Brain Injury,” sought to identify if the addition of a virtual reality-based intervention can improve functional motor outcomes in individuals living with chronic brain injury. Upon completing her Master’s, she accepted a job with Craig Hospital’s Research Department in Denver, Colorado. In her role, she collects data for the Rocky Mountain Regional Traumatic Brain Injury Model System and assists with additional projects as needed. She can be reached by email at scruz@craighospital.org.

Alex Davidson, M.S.
Alex Davidson received his M.S. in Behavior Analysis in 2020 and was an active member of the Neuroplasticity and Repertoire Restoration Laboratory. During his time in the NRRL, Alex contributed to the conceptualization, design, construction, and/or programming of multiple experimental apparatuses, including the “Supercage” and “ORT” (One Rat Turnstile). His research interests include the effects of errorless learning on dimensions of response allocation and how schedule-induced response patterns are affected by increasing degrees of freedom. Outside of the lab, Alex is interested in Instructional Design and programming errorless learning of complex repertoires. He enjoys tinkering in the lab, brainstorming experimental designs, and problem solving at the white board or hardware store with other lab members. Alex currently works as a Senior Program Coordinator for the ENGAGE program at UNT where he provides mentoring and direct service for neurodivergent college students to help them reach their academic and vocational goals.”
Melody Jones
Ilena Persaud

Lab Pictures 

Current Projects
Controlling neuromodulation to improve stroke recovery: A multi-project research line (Jared Armshaw & Grayson Butcher)

Diffuse neuromodulatory systems are known to control brain plasticity in motor cortical targets, impacting motor learning and performance. In this series of experiments, we test the sufficiency of artificially controlling neuromodualtion to improve the efficacy of motor rehabiltiation.

Student project leaders: Jared Armshaw and Grayson Butcher

Investigating the role of oxytocin in social reinforcement (Carlos Lopez, G-RRISE Trainee)

Oxytocin impacts both prosocial and antisocial behavior in various contexts in humans and animals. In this project, we investigate the connection between oxytocin and social reinforcement that may contribute to the development of both types of behavior.

Clarifying the impact of conditioning context on biological constraints governing stimulus control (Sophia Kirkland)
Exploring the impact of acquisition training on behavioral allocation (Rachel Krilrich & Alex Davidson)
Programming for mand/intraverbal transfer in the treatment of brain-injury related aphasia (Marla Baltazar-Mars)

Many deficits may arise following a brain injury, including difficulty with language. There is limited research on verbal behavior under these circumstances. This project replicates and extends research on the interdependence of verbal operants in brain injury related aphasia. Particularly, we assess emergence of the mand and intraverbal following tact acquisition and in some cases, following direct transfer training.

Improving throughput and sensitivity of the cylinder test for behavioral assessment in stroke research (Jared Armshaw)

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