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Teresa Pitts, PhD

Laboratory of Swallow and Airway Protection


Department of Speech Language and Hearing Sciences

School of Health Professions

University of Missouri

Columbia, MO

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Dr. Pitts

Dr. Teresa Pitts is currently an Associate Professor and Chair of the Speech Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Missouri- Columbia.  She received her bachelor and master of art degrees in Communicative Disorders at the University of Central Florida, and completed a master’s thesis with Bari Hoffman-Ruddy PhD.  She completed her PhD in 2010 at the University of Florida, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, where her studies focused on the study of airway protection in patients with Parkinson’s disease with Christine Sapienza, PhD.  Her research brought to light the co-existence of disordered swallow and cough in Parkinson’s disease which puts these patients at risk for significant respiratory complications.  Pertinent findings included the viability of using voluntary cough to detect at-risk patients for swallowing disorders, and then treating those at-risk patients with Expiratory Muscle Strength Training which improved cough and swallowing safety scores.   As a post-doctoral fellow Dr Pitts revealed the overlapping central control of cough and swallow in an animal for the eventual prediction of aspiration pneumonia in at-risk populations, and was awarded NIH’s prestigious Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) in 2013.  She is also working to develop a model of airway protection including dysphagia (disorder of swallow) and dystussia (disorder of cough) for testing of novel therapies to extend the quality-of-life of persons living with neuromuscular diseases. At the University of Louisville, in the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, she moved her area of focus into the spinal cord, examining the spinal pathways that are important for the regulation of swallow. Now at Mizzou she hopes to development novel treatments for dysphagia and get people back to the table with their families.

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My Research

Recent Publications

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Optogenetic stimulation of pre–Botzinger complex reveals

novel circuit interactions in swallowing–breathing coordination

In collaboration with Dr. Alyssa Huff and Dr. Nino Ramirez at Seattle Children's this project used techniques to understand how swallow & breathing are coordinated.

Feed-forward and reciprocal inhibition for gain and phase timing control in a
computational model of repetitive cough

In an effort to expand the previously published computation model of cough, here we worked to produce a model which had features of in vivo repetitive cough.


The Role of the Cerebellum in Control of Swallow: Evidence of Inspiratory Activity During Swallow.

In an effort to understand why inspiratory activity during swallow might be deemed inconsequential by studies, we wanted to examine the effect of removal of the cerebellum.

Neurons in the dorsomedial medulla
contribute to swallow pattern generation:
Evidence of inspiratory activity during swallow

In an effort to understand regulation of diaphragm activity during swallow, we recording from inspiratory neurons in the NTS which are pre-motor to the diaphragm.  We also recorded from respiratory phasic cells in the medial reticular formation to further understand components of the swallow central pattern generator.


Strategies for the Integration of Cough and Swallow to Maintain
Airway Protection in Humans

Building of work in animal models, here we used a combined cough and swallow protocol to understand the regulations of airway protection.

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