• Courtesy of Ronald Griffith : Mono-transynaptic labeling of premotor interneurons with modified rabies viruses

  • Courtesy of Travis Rotterman: The monosynaptic stretch reflex from Cajal to genetic labeling

  • Courtesy of Travis Rotterman: Motoneuron (blue) and microglia (green) interactions

  • Courtesy of Francisco Alvarez: Renshaw cells

  • Courtesy of Laura Gomez-Perez: Muscle fibers transfected with GFP and/or mCherry

  • Courtesy of Alicia Lane : Genetic intersectional approaches for targeting Renshaw cells

  • Courtesy of Erica Akter: KCC2 regulation in axotomized motoneurons

  • Courtesy of Travis Rotterman: Axotomized motoneurons (blue) and activated microglia (green)

  • Courtesy of Ronald Griffith: AAV1 transfected motoneurons

  • Courtesy of Andre Rivard: Firing properties of genetically-defined classes of interneurons

  • Courtesy of Sarah Fisher (summer student): Muscle spindles

  • Courtesy of Francisco Alvarez: Early embryonic development of the spinal motor system

  • Courtesy of Sarah Fisher (summer student) and Tavishi Chopra: Neuromuscular junctions.

  • Courtesy of Travis Rotterman: Spinal cord microglia


Francisco J. Alvarez, PhD
Department of Cell Biology

Emory University School of Medicine
615 Michael Street
Room 650D
Atlanta, GA 30322-3110


Publications on:


Google Scholar 

Research Interests

The Alvarez Lab studies the structure, development and function of spinal motor circuits. Spinal motoneurons innervate skeletal muscle and are the final common path by which our brain executes motor behaviors and interacts with the world around us. Coordinated movement depends on the pattern and timing of motor output from the spinal cord. Think about  the many muscles that need to contract  in  a coordinated manner to place an index finger on the forehead. Motoneurons innervating different muscles need to fire in the appropriate sequence and frequencies to control both timing and strength of contractions in the different muscles moving a joint or a limb. This control is exerted by the neuronal networks of the spinal cord.

These networks are remarkable and allow us to maintain balance and posture, have volitional movements for either kicking a ball or playing the piano and also start rhythmic patterns like locomotion or scratching. Not surprisingly, they are extremely complex and although they have been investigated for over 100 years there is still much to learn about them. The lab is interested in the following questions:

1. How  does this neural network develop in embryo and mature in infants? What can we learn from developmental neurobiology about its organization and the evolution  of locomotor systems in the vertebrate phylogeny? Moreover what goes wrong in these networks in babies with congenital motor deficits?

2. How does this neural network reconfigure when challenged by injury in adult? What role does injury-induced neuroinflammation play in altering the network connections and for what purpose? What is the impact of synaptic plasticity, in particular that of GABA/glycinergic synapses, on motoneurons regenerative programs after they become injured in their axons? 

3. Can knowledge of these neural networks tell us anything about progression of symptoms and triggers during neurodegenerative diseases of the spinal motor system, like Spinal Muscular Atrophy or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Funding and Sponsors

Click here for current active grants and fellowships.

Motoneuron 3D Data

3D Motoneuron Data Sharing