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Kristina Simonyan

  • ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR Otolaryngology
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  • Ph.D., German Primate Center and TiHo University of Hannover

  • M.D., Honors Diploma, Yerevan State Medical University

  • Residency, Yerevan State University and Univesity of Goettingen

  • Clinical Research Fellowship, NINDS/NIH

  • Dr. med., magna cum laude, University of Goettingen


  • 2008 -
    Fellow Award for Research Excellence, NIH

  • 2007, 2009 -
    Poster Presentation Award, NINDS Intramural Retreat

  • 2000 - 2004
    DFG (German Research Foundation) Fellowship, Germany

  • 2000 -
    DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship, Germany

  • 1992 - 1998
    Yerevan State Medical University Merit-based Scholarship


Specific Clinical / Research Interests

Neuroimaging of dystonia; Genetics of Dystonia; Novel treatment approaches for Dystonia and Tremor; Neuropathology of Dystonia and Voice Tremor; Neuroimaging of Parkinson's Disease; Brain plasticity in voice recovery after total Laryngectomy; Central mechanisms of normal and disordered voice production


Simonyan Laboratory

Summary of Research Studies

The main research goal of my laboratory is to identify the neural mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of primary focal dystonias and to develop new approaches for treatment of these patients.
Dystonia is a syndrome of involuntary, sustained muscle contractions, frequently causing twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures, which tend to be triggered with action and abate during rest or sleep. Dystonia is the third commonest movement disorder after essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. Primary focal dystonias affect the muscles in one body part, such as the neck (cervical dystonia), hand (e.g., focal hand dystonia), eyelid (blepharospasm), and larynx (spasmodic dysphonia).

Despite the recent progress in elucidating the brain abnormalities within the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuitry in this disorder, there is a fundamental gap in understanding the neurochemical correlates underpinning these changes. Funded by the NIH/NIDCD (R00DC009629), our aim is to determine the  contribution of  dopaminergic and GABAergic neurotransmission to altered functional brain activity in patients with spasmodic dysphonia (SD) and focal hand dystonia using a combination of functional MRI (fMRI) and PET neuroreceptor mapping. 

Another area of my research is to understand how variations in the causative gene expression may lead to variations in brain abnormalities in different phenotypes of SD (e.g., familial, sporadic, adductor, abductor). Supported by the NIH/NIDCD (R01DC011805), we aim to identify SD phenotype-specific brain abnormalities associated with genetic risk factors using a novel approach of combined multi-modal imaging of SD genetics and next-generation DNA sequencing.

About one third of SD patients have co-occurring voice tremor, which causes further disability and poorly responds to the available treatment with botulinum toxin. Funded by the NIH/NIDCD (R01DC012545), our goal is to identify the differences in brain abnormalities between SD and voice tremor as the bases for the characterization of central mechanisms underlying symptom improvement following the use of sodium oxybate, a novel pharmacological agent for treatment of ethanol-responsive dystonia.

Another focus of my laboratory is on better understanding the pathophysiology underlying the task specificity in primary focal dystonias. Task-specific primary focal dystonias are characterized by selective activation of dystonic movements during performance of highly learned motor tasks, such as writing or playing a musical instrument. To date, we have only limited knowledge about the distinct neural abnormalities that lead to the development of task-specific primary focal dystonias affecting similar muscle groups but resulting in different clinical manifestations, such as writer’s cramp vs. pianist’s dystonia and embouchure dystonia vs. oromandibular dystonia. Our goal is to dissect the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the phenomenon of task specificity in primary focal dystonias using a combined approach of brain network analysis and neuropathological examination.


Simonyan K, Herscovitch P, Horwitz B. Speech-induced striatal dopamine release is left lateralized and coupled to functional striatal circuits in healthy humans: A combined PET, fMRI and DTI study. NeuroImage 2013 Apr; 70.

Simonyan K, Feng X, Henriquez VM, Ludlow CL. Combined laryngeal inflammation and trauma mediate long-lasting immunoreactivity response in the brainstem sensory nuclei in the rat. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience 2012; 6.

Simonyan K, Blitzer A. Commentary on . Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society 2012 Mar; 27(3).

Simonyan K, Horwitz B, Jarvis ED. Dopamine regulation of human speech and bird song: a critical review. Brain and language 2012 Sep; 122(3).

Simonyan K, Ludlow CL. Abnormal structure-function relationship in spasmodic dysphonia. Cerebral Cortex 2012 Feb; 22(2).

Simonyan K, Horwitz B. Laryngeal motor cortex and control of speech in humans. The Neuroscientist : A review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry 2011 Apr; 17(2).

Husain FT, Medina RE, Davis CW, Szymko-Bennett Y, Simonyan K, Pajor NM, Horwitz B. Neuroanatomical changes due to hearing loss and chronic tinnitus: a combined VBM and DTI study. Brain Research 2011 Jan; 1369.

Simonyan K, Ludlow CL. Abnormal activation of the primary somatosensory cortex in spasmodic dysphonia: an fMRI study. Cerebral Cortex 2010 Nov; 20(11).

Simonyan K, Ostuni J, Ludlow CL, Horwitz B. Functional but not structural networks of the human laryngeal motor cortex show left hemispheric lateralization during syllable but not breathing production. The Journal of Neuroscience : The official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2009 Nov; 29(47).

Simonyan K, Ludlow CL, Vortmeyer AO. Brainstem pathology in spasmodic dysphonia. The Laryngoscope 2010 Jan; 120(1).

Lowell SY, Poletto CJ, Knorr-Chung BR, Reynolds RC, Simonyan K, Ludlow CL. Sensory stimulation activates both motor and sensory components of the swallowing system. NeuroImage 2008 Aug; 42(1).

Simonyan K, Tovar-Moll F, Ostuni J, Hallett M, Kalasinsky VF, Lewin-Smith MR, Rushing EJ, Vortmeyer AO, Ludlow CL. Focal white matter changes in spasmodic dysphonia: a combined diffusion tensor imaging and neuropathological study. Brain : A journal of neurology 2008 Feb; 131(Pt 2).

Simonyan K, Saad ZS, Loucks TM, Poletto CJ, Ludlow CL. Functional neuroanatomy of human voluntary cough and sniff production. NeuroImage 2007 Aug; 37(2).

Loucks TM, Poletto CJ, Simonyan K, Reynolds CL, Ludlow CL. Human brain activation during phonation and exhalation: common volitional control for two upper airway functions. NeuroImage 2007 May; 36(1).

Simonyan K, Jürgens U. Afferent cortical connections of the motor cortical larynx area in the rhesus monkey. Neuroscience 2005; 130(1).

Simonyan K, Jürgens U. Afferent subcortical connections into the motor cortical larynx area in the rhesus monkey. Neuroscience 2005; 130(1).

Rödel RM, Olthoff A, Tergau F, Simonyan K, Kraemer D, Markus H, Kruse E. Human cortical motor representation of the larynx as assessed by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The Laryngoscope 2004 May; 114(5).

Simonyan K, Jürgens U. Efferent subcortical projections of the laryngeal motorcortex in the rhesus monkey. Brain Research 2003 Jun; 974(1-2).

Simonyan K, Jürgens U. Cortico-cortical projections of the motorcortical larynx area in the rhesus monkey. Brain Research 2002 Sep; 949(1-2).

Simonyan K. The laryngeal motor cortex: its organization and connectivity. Current opinion in neurobiology 2014 Jun; 28C.

Industry Relationships

Physicians and scientists on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai often interact with pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology companies to improve patient care, develop new therapies and achieve scientific breakthroughs. In order to promote an ethical and transparent environment for conducting research, providing clinical care and teaching, Mount Sinai requires that salaried faculty inform the School of their relationships with such companies.

Dr. Simonyan did not report having any of the following types of financial relationships with industry during 2014 and/or 2015: consulting, scientific advisory board, industry-sponsored lectures, service on Board of Directors, participation on industry-sponsored committees, equity ownership valued at greater than 5% of a publicly traded company or any value in a privately held company. Please note that this information may differ from information posted on corporate sites due to timing or classification differences.

Mount Sinai's faculty policies relating to faculty collaboration with industry are posted on our website. Patients may wish to ask their physician about the activities they perform for companies.

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