Turgay Akay  

Turgay Akay, PhD

Assistant Professor,
Department of Medical Neuroscience,
Dalhousie University

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Tel: (902) 494-2647


Neural networks and control of locomotion

Dr. Turgay Akay studies the movement behavior of animals in order to understand the neuronal mechanisms of locomotion (whole-body movements which include walking, running and swimming), as well as the denervation process in neurodegenerative diseases. He received the inaugural BRC-QEII Foundation Discovery Grant in 2015, for his work to understand the mechanisms that drive the loss of neurons and motor function in ALS. He has also received funding from the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust, and Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation. These local funds assisted Dr. Akay in securing large five-year awards from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and NSERC.

Dr. Akay has developed sophisticated experimental models and measurement techniques that allow him to:

  • record the electrical activity of multiple leg muscles during locomotion in mice with genetically manipulated spinal cord circuits, to gain insights into how the nervous system controls locomotion
  • measure the denervation process, in real time, in individual mutant mice that model ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), from the early stages to the end stages of the disease
  • capture detailed information about the subtle changes that take place as muscles lose their connection to the nervous system in such neurodegenerative diseases as ALS
  • learn how the nervous system compensates for the loss of motor neurons and synaptic connections in neurodegenerative disease

He works extensively with Drs. Vic Rafuse, Ying Zhang, Jim Fawcett, and Angelo Iulianella. Together these researchers form the laboratory-based nucleus of the Mobility Project.

Academic background

Turgay Akay completed an undergraduate degree in fisheries engineering at Süleyman Demirel University in Turkey. His interest in animal behaviour led him back to Germany, where he was born, to pursue a diploma degree in biology at the University of Bielefeld and a PhD at the University of Cologne's Institute for Zoology. During his PhD, he studied neural systems and behaviour at the famed Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Upon completing his PhD in 2002, Dr. Akay re-located to North America. Following postdoctoral stints at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Alberta, Dr. Akay made the move to Columbia University, where he worked with Dr. Tom Jessell and later became an associate research scientist at Columbia's Center for Motor Neuron Biology and Disease. Already a long-time collaborator with Dalhousie's motor neuron researchers, Dr. Akay made the move to Halifax in 2014 to join the Department of Medical Neuroscience.

 Selected Publications

Fiander MDJ, Stifani N, Nichols M, Akay T, Robertson GS. (2017). Kinematic gait parameters are highly sensitive measures of motor deficits and spinal cord injury in mice subjected to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Behavioural Brain Research. 317: 95-108.

Tuan V Bui, Nicolas Stifani, Turgay Akay, Robert M Brownstone. (2016). Spinal microcircuits comprising dI3 interneurons are necessary for motor functional recovery following spinal cord transection. ELife. 15;5:pii: e21715.

Mendes CS, Bartos I, Márka Z, Akay T, Márka S, Mann RS. (2015).Quantification of gait parameters in freely walking rodents.   BMC Biol.13:50: 50-61.

Akay T, Tourtellotte W, Arber S, and Jessell TM. Modular degradation of elemental locomotor pattern in the absence of proprioceptive sensory feedback. PNAS, 111(47): 16877-16882.

Akay T. (2014) Long-term measurement of muscle denervation and locomotor behavior in individual wild type and ALS model mice. J. Neurophysiol. 111(3):694-703.

Kaplan A, Spiller KJ, Towne Ch, Kanning KC, Choe GT, Geber A, Akay T, Aebischer P, and Henderson ChE (2014). Neuronal matrix metalloproteinase-9 is a determinant of selective neurodegeneration. Neuron 81(2):333-348.

Bui TV, Akay T, Loubani O, Hnasko TS, Jessell TM, and Brownstone RM (2013). Circuits for grasping: spinal dI3 interneurons mediate cutaneous control of motor behavior. Neuron 78(1):191-204.

Mendes C, Bartos I, Akay T, Márka S, and Mann RS (2013). Automated visualization and quantification of gait parameters in freely walking Drosophila melanogaster. Elife: 2:e00231.

Zagoraiou L, Akay T, Martin JF, Brownstone RM, Jessell TM, and Miles GB (2009). A cluster of cholinergic pre-motor interneurons modulates locomotor activity in mouse. 
Neuron 64:645-662.

Zhang Y, Narayan S, Geiman E, Lanuza GM, Velasquez T, Shanks B, Akay T, Dyck J, Pearson KG, Gosgnach S, Fan C-M, and Goulding M (2008). V3 spinal neurons establish a robust and balanced locomotor rhythm during walking. Neuron 60:64-96.

Akay T, Fouad K, and Pearson KG (2008). New technique for drug application to the spinal cord of walking mice. J. Neurosci. Methods 171(1):39-47.

Akay T, Ludwar BCh, G�ritz ML, Schmitz J, and Büschges A (2007). Segment specific reflex-reversal depends on walking direction in stick insect leg. J. Neurosci. 27(12):3285-3294.