Rochester, Minnesota




The research of Wen-Zhi Zhan, M.D., concerns the neural control of the diaphragm muscle and the adaptation of phrenic motor neurons and diaphragm motor units in a variety of patient conditions.

Dr. Zhan's research has applied an array of state-of-the-art physiological and biomedical engineering techniques to explore the interaction between phrenic motor neurons and the muscle fibers they innervate. These techniques include microsurgery such as spinal hemisection, contusion and intrathecal application of neurotrophins, chronic electromyography recording, retrograde labeling and confocal imaging of motor neurons in the spinal cord, viral-mediated gene transfer in motor neurons and muscle fibers, and biomechanical measurements at various levels of muscle performance.

Focus areas

  • Understanding the mechanisms that enhance recovery of breathing function. Dr. Zhan is working to better understand how to restore the full complement of respiratory motor behaviors after spinal cord injury. Ongoing studies have discovered groundbreaking new information regarding the mechanisms underlying recovery of respiratory function after cervical spinal cord injury.
  • Growth factors and improved function in neuromuscular disorders. Dr. Zhan is examining the impact of different families of growth factors on the regulation of neuromuscular transmission, diaphragm muscle fiber properties and motor neuron survival in order to improve function in patients with neuromuscular disorders.

Significance to patient care

The studies conducted by Dr. Zhan are instrumental in understanding how rhythmic diaphragm muscle activity can be restored in patients with spinal cord injury and neuromuscular disorders. Using this new information on the mechanisms underlying recovery of respiratory function, clinicians and researchers can explore novel therapies for patients with spinal cord injury.

Professional highlights

  • Editorial board member, Acta Physiologica Sinica, China, 2002-2008
  • Editorial board member, Journal of Applied Physiology, 1993-2008


See my publications


Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Physiology

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