Dr. O'Donovan received his M.D. from the University of Bristol, England in 1972 and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Sherrington School of Physiology, at St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School, London in 1978. He then came to the United States to do post-doctoral work at the NIH with Robert Burke and then Yale University, where with Dr. Lynn Landmesser he became interested in the development of spinal networks. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa. In 1988 he joined the Laboratory of Neural Control at the NINDS and in 1991 became Chief of the Section on Developmental Neurobiology and retired in 2021. Dr. O'Donovan remains active as a collaborator, his major research interest is in the organization of motor networks in the spinal cord and was appointed a Scientist Emeritus in February 2022.
Dr. O'Donovan's research focuses on the development and operation of circuits in the spinal cord. He currently devotes most of his effort to understanding the organization of the spinal networks generating locomotion of the neonatal mouse. He is particularly interested in understanding the role of motoneurons in the operation of locomotor networks and the mechanisms responsible for the excitatory effects of motoneurons within the spinal cord.
His lab focused on understanding how motoneurons trigger and modulate the locomotor rhythm in the neonatal spinal cord. This involves several techniques including, whole cell patch clamping, calcium and voltage imaging, optogenetics and immunocytochemistry.