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Michael Rowe

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Professor Emeritus
Wilson West 013

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Ph.D., University of California, Riverside

Research Interests

  • Vestibular Neuroethology Lab
  • Lab: Wilson 014

We investigate mechanisms of balance and spatial orientation using the methods of neuroethology and an interdisciplinary team that includes neuroscientists, behavioral biologists, physicists, and engineers. Our experimental models are turtles and mice. These species offer a number of practical advantages for investigation of vestibular mechanisms. Because the vestibular system is highly conserved during evolution, knowledge gained from turtles and mice can be expected to generalize well to other vertebrates, including humans.

Neuroethology is the study of neural mechanisms underlying naturally occurring behavior. Vestibular Neuroethology seeks to understand how head movements during natural behavior are converted into neural signals that can be used by the brain. This is accomplished in two steps.

First, we identify the spatial and temporal patterns of head movement that occur during natural behaviors using high speed digital video recordings of freely moving animals. We combine these data with information about the orientation of vestibular organs in the skull to specify the pattern of stimulation that different vestibular organs experience during natural behaviors.

Second, we use experiments, models, and information analysis to determine how mechanical stimuli delivered to hair bundles are transduced into electrical signals by vestibular receptors (hair cells) and then encoded and transmitted to the brain by afferent fibers of the vestibular nerve.


I was originally trained as a physiological and comparative psychologist at time when the modern field of Neuroscience was just emerging (the Society for Neuroscience was inaugurated while I was in graduate school). I have always been interested in how the brain acquires and stores new information, and have spent most of my career investigating the response properties of single neurons of the visual and vestibular sensory systems. Shortly after arriving at Ohio University in 1982, my wife (Ellengene Peterson) and I undertook to establish a graduate neuroscience program. We succeeded in obtaining academic challenge and 1804 awards for that purpose, and the program was launched in 1988. Over the next decade, both biology and neuroscience became increasingly quantitative and computational, and we helped lead the effort to establish the Quantitative Biology Institute in 2000, which represented collaboration between faculty in the departments of Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Physics & Astronomy. Throughout, I have both enjoyed and greatly benefited from the experience of working with an interdisciplinary team to answer questions of fundamental importance in Neuroscience.

Representative Publications

Rowe, M.H. and Peterson, E.H. (2006) Autocorrelation analysis of hair bundle structure in the utricle. J Neurophysiol., 96: 2653-2669.

Rowe, M.H., Nieman, A.N. (2011) Information analysis of posterior canal afferents in the turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans, Brain Res, in press, doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.08.016.

Neiman, A.N., Russell, D.F. and Rowe, M.H. (2011) Identifying temporal codes in spontaneously active sensory neurons. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27380. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027380.

Spoon, C., Moravec, W.J., Rowe, M.H., Grant, J.W. and Peterson, E.H. (2011) Steady state stiffness of utricular hair cells depends on macular location and hair bundle structure. J Neurophysiol, 106: 2950-2963.

Rivera, A., Davis, J.L., Grant, J.W., Blob, R., Peterson, E., Neiman, A., and Rowe, M.H. Quantifying utricular stimulation during natural behaviors, J Neurophysiol, submitted.