Anatomy and Cell Biology

Justin S. Sipla, PhD


Lecturer of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Contact Information

Primary Office: 1-B046 A ML
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-384-1188



BA, Anthropology, University of California
MS, Basic Health Sciences, Stony Brook University
PhD, Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University

Research Summary

My research focuses on the evolution of the semicircular canals in birds, nonavian dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and bats, using computed tomography and other medical imaging techniques to assess functional morphology. The size, shape, and planar orientation of the canals show attunements to preferred planes of movement, and correlate strongly with degree of locomotor maneuverability. This provides unique insight into the pattern of neurosensory adaptation associated with adoption of volant behaviors among primitive fliers, compared with non-volant antecedents and secondarily flightless species. Collaborative work on nonavian dinosaurs is helping to differentiate bipedality from quadrupedality at the neural level.

Recently, I have begun investigating vestibular and neurocognitive dysfunction in human athletes suffering from traumatic brain injury. This is leading to the development of a collaborative research program at UI, aimed at using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine axonal twisting and shearing post-concussion in injured athletes. The goal is to better understand how structural and neurometabolic damage resulting from collision produces behavioral dysfunction, and to promote multidimensional approaches to concussion assessment and management.

Selected Publications

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Georgi J, Sipla J, Forster C.  Turning Semicircular Canal Function on Its Head: Dinosaurs and a Novel Vestibular Analysis.  PLoS ONE.  2013. 8(3):e58517.

Sipla J.  The semicircular canals of birds and non-avian theropod dinosaurs.  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.  2007. Suppl. 27:147.

Sipla J, Whitlock J, D’Emic M.  The Bony Labyrinth of Isisaurus colberti (Sauropoda: Saurischia) and the Evolution of the Sauropod Inner Ear. 

Date Last Modified: 06/06/2016 - 13:17:48