Swain, Rodney

Milwaukee Institute for Drug Discovery (MIDD)

Professor of Psychology

Swain Group Website


Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1992

Research Interests:

Broadly stated, my laboratory is interested in studying the manner in which experience shapes the structure and function of the brain and, in turn, how these alterations affect behavior. Given that experience can take many forms, it should not be surprising that morphological and functional changes also exhibit varied patterns. For example, it has recently been reported that motor skill learning is accompanied by increases in the density of Purkinje cell synapses in the cerebellum of the rat. In contrast, exercise, in the absence of learning, produces increases in the density of capillary innervation of the cerebellum. My laboratory is interested in how these plastic changes, individually and in concert, facilitate behavioral adaptation. Our research focuses on changes in motor systems, particularly the cerebellum and motor cortex, associated with motor skill acquisition and repetitive motor activity (exercise).

Current projects in the lab fall into two separate but related categories. The first category examines the relationship between motor activity and plasticity of vascular and synaptic networks of the brain. The work also addresses the impact that these plastic changes have on the learning process. The second research category explores the nature of cerebellar contributions to higher cognitive function. Of particular interest is the manner in which cognition is degraded following ablation of the cerebellum and how manipulations of both behavior and brain morphology can begin to reverse these degradative changes.

Teaching Interests:

Behavioral Neuroscience/Psychobiology; Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Brain Injury and Recovery

Courses Taught:

Psych 654: Advanced Physiological Psychology
Psych 854: Behavioral Neuroscience

Selected Publications

Stevenson, M. E., Nazario, A. S., Czyz, A. M., Owen, H. A., & Swain, R. A. (2021). Motor learning rapidly increases synaptogenesis and astrocytic structural plasticity in the rat cerebellum. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory177.
Stevenson, M. E., Miller, C. C., Owen, H. A., & Swain, R. A. (2020). Aerobic exercise increases sprouting angiogenesis in the male rat motor cortex. Brain Structure and Function,225(8), 2301-2314.
Stevenson, M. E., Kay, J. J., Atry, F., Wickstrom, A. T., Krueger, J. R., Swain, R. E., & Swain, R. A. (2019). Wheel running for 26 weeks is associated with sustained vascular plasticity in the rat motor cortex. Behavioural Brain Research380.
Behnke, V. K., Stevenson, M. E., & Swain, R. (2018). Inactivation of the cerebellar fastigial nuclei alters social behavior in the rat. Behavioral Neuroscience132, 552-560.
Stevenson, M. E., Behnke, V. K., & Swain, R. (2018). Exercise pattern and distance differentially affect hippocampal and cerebellar expression of FLK-1 and FLT-1 receptors in astrocytes and blood vessels. Behavioural Brain Research337, 8-16.
Bauer, D. J., Peterson, T. C., & Swain, R. (2014). Cerebellar dentate nuclei lesions alter prefrontal cortex dendritic spine morphology. Brain Research1544, 15-24.
Berggren, K. L., Kay, J. M., & Swain, R. (2014). Examining cerebral angiogenesis in response to physical exercise. Milner, R. (Ed.). Methods in Molecular Biology: Cerebral Angiogenesis, 139-154. Humana Press.