Michelle Ciucci

Michelle Ciucci
Associate Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery
(608) 265-6516


Ph.D. University of Arizona, Tucson

Lab Website:


Research Focus:

Understanding pathology and developing treatment for communication, swallowing, and ingestive function disorders in neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson disease

Research Strengths:

Neurobiology of Disease; Perception and Movement

Research Description:

Historically, movement neuroscience and medical interventions have focused on the limb and largely ignored voice and swallowing deficits associated with central nervous system diseases. My work focuses on how targeted therapies, or exercise, influences behavior and the neurobiological processes underlying recovery from deficits in the cranial sensorimotor system. The goals of my research are to develop appropriate behavioral treatment strategies unique to speech and swallowing disorders considering the influence of pharmacological and surgical management. I hope that understanding these differences will lead to better treatments and functional outcomes for patients with neurologic disorders.

Dysarthria (disordered speech), dysphonia (disordered voice) and oropharyngeal dysphagia (disordered swallowing) are prevalent in idiopathic Parkinson disease and are largely unresponsive to pharmacological and surgical interventions. Thus, it is unclear if these cranial motor deficits are related to the primary disease pathology of Parkinson disease (nigrostriatal dopaminergic cell degeneration). Interestingly behavioral/exercise intervention improves cranial and limb deficits. However, we do not know if the mechanism of recovery is the same these two distinct sensorimotor systems. Since human vocal production and swallowing arise from the complex interaction of multiple brain and body systems, investigation of underlying physiopathy is challenging. As such, we employ a rat model to address these gaps in knowledge.

My work examines the impact of early sensorimotor training that targets vocalization complexity and tongue force generation on biological markers of striatal function (e.g., dopamine sparing, recovery of dopaminergic neurons) and behavioral outcomes in a rat neurotoxin and rat and mouse transgenic models of Parkinson disease. Additionally, this research addresses fundamental questions regarding the nature of vocalization and swallowing deficits and the potential mechanisms underlying recovery as a result of targeted exercise intervention.