Neurophysiology and Neuroplasticity Studies

Swallowing is a complex biological function that is controlled by six pairs of cranial nerves and many areas/centers in the brainstem and brain. Disruptions in any of the complex swallowing neural pathways may lead to difficulty swallowing or swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia). 

The series of swallowing neurophysiology and neuroplasticity studies conducted by our team aim to help us better understand the underlying central and peripheral neural mechanisms that control this vital human function, in an effort to inform clinical decisions and develop neurophysiologically-driven treatments.

Brain Activity during swallowing

Brain activity during swallowing in healthy young adults

Our early swallowing neurophysiology work focused on providing insights on the underlying neural mechanisms of swallowing function in healthy adults (Malandraki et al. 2009; Malandraki et al. 2010; Malandraki et al. 2011; Paine et al. 2011). Based on this work our team was among the first to identify areas of the brain responsible for different aspects of the swallowing sequence, thus providing insights on functional specificity and further validation for the role of the brain (cortex and subcortex) in swallowing control.

Brain slices

Areas of most significant activation during swallowing (shown in red), during throat clearing (shown in blue), and during tongue tapping (shown in yellow). (Malandraki et al. 2009)

Swallowing Control Across the Life Span Study

In our current set of studies on the Swallowing Control across the Life Span we have expanded our research paradigm to include a multi-level research approach. Specifically, we now use behavioral/physiological measures (real time x-ray and clinical evaluations), peripheral neurophysiology measures (surface electromyography), and a multimodal neuroimaging approach (structural MRI, resting-state fcMRI, and DTI/DSI) to gain a deeper understanding of all the levels of control for swallowing function across the age span. These studies will enable us to characterize the developmental progression of swallowing control and will form a robust normative database that will be used comparatively in clinical studies.

Our current studies on Swallowing Control across the Life Span and how to participate (if you qualify) please see our study flyer below or contact us at

Developmental Neuroplasticity of Swallowing and Speech – CP study

One of our largest current studies is focused on examining the neuroplastic adaptations of swallowing and speech in children with unilateral and bilateral brain damage, and specifically in children with cerebral palsy (CP). 

In essence by investigating the behavioral, peripheral, and central neurophysiological profile of these children we have started gaining a better understanding of how the central and the peripheral nervous systems adapt for several functions, such as feeding, swallowing, and speech after early brain lesions. This understanding is imperative in our efforts to develop new and better treatments for feeding, swallowing, and speech for these children who currently remain largely under-treated in these domains. This study is partially supported by the NIH (NIDCD) and the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Pedal-with-Pete Foundation.

To learn more about our current studies on developmental neuroplasticity and how to participate (if your child qualifies) please see our study flyer (on the right hand side) or contact us at

SMN network in CP

Sensorimotor network at rest of two children with unilateral CP. Our preliminary studies show that children with bilateral sensorimotor resting networks (as shown on the right image) may have more severe clinical signs of dysphagia than children with contralesional sensorimotor resting networks (shown on the left image) (Malandraki et al. 2017, ESSD).

Students/trainees involved in these studies (now or in the past)

  • Kara Simon
  • Kausar Abbas
  • Tom Lu
  • Lucia Figueiredo-Mourao
  • Naomi Dreyer
  • Pratik Kashyap
  • Cagla Kantarcigil

Funding provided by:

  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD, NIH) [Early Career R21, PI: Malandraki]
  • American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine and Pedal-with-Pete Foundation [PI: Malandraki]
  • Seed MRI fund, College of Health and Human Sciences, Purdue University [PI: Malandraki]
  • Indiana Lions McKinney Outreach Program [student grant]
  • National Institutes of Health / Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [R01, PI: Friel]