Emily Petrus


Department of Primary Appointment:
School of Medicine
Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics
Location: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
Research Interests:
Office Phone


BS Biology, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY
MS Credits, Neurobiology, University of Bucharest, Romania
PhD Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD


My research studies how the adult brain reacts to injury such as denervation or amputation. We use a mouse model where the whisker nerves are cut, effectively amputating whiskers on one side of the face. When mice are imaged with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) their brain activity patterns mimic those observed in human amputees. Some amputees experience beneficial adaptations to injury, for example learning to use a prosthetic or increasing functional accuracy with the intact limb. Other amputees suffer from phantom limb pain or hyperalgesia, which impairs their ability to recover and negatively impacts their quality of life. We seek to characterize the neuronal adaptations that underlie these reactions with a combination of electrophysiology, histology, single nucleus RNA sequencing, and mouse behavior. The goal of this research is to identify the specific neurons that drive the brain’s adaptations to injury and modulate their activity to improve recovery or ameliorate chronic pain conditions.

I obtained my BS in Biology from Wagner College on Staten Island, NY in 2007, and spent a year pursuing a MS in Neurobiology in Bucharest Romania before returning to a postbaccalaureate position in NIMH with Ted Usdin. My PhD in Neuroscience was awarded in 2014 from Johns Hopkins University under the supervision of Hey-Kyoung Lee and co-advisor Patrick Kanold. I studied the neural circuitry underlying cross-modal plasticity, where we used visual deprivation to study the mechanisms auditory cortex activates to compensate for loss of vision. My postdoctoral training was in NINDS with Alan Koretsky, where I characterized the brain's response to whisker denervation in mice; this is analogous to a human upper limb amputee. We found that the fMRI-detected brain adaptations have specific circuitry and neurons that underlie the adult brain's response to injury.

Representative publications, projects, and/or deployments

Circuit-Specific Plasticity of Callosal Inputs Underlies Cortical Takeover. Journal of Neuroscience 2020

Interhemispheric plasticity is mediated by maximal potentiation of callosal inputs, PNAS 2019

Crossmodal induction of thalamocortical potentiation leads to enhanced information processing in the auditory cortex. Neuron 2014