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Light workout: Stanford scientists use optogenetics to effectively stimulate muscle movement in mice
Date:9/26/2010

system includes the long nerve fibers that exit the spinal cord to innervate skeletal muscle, producing voluntary movement. Skeletal muscles work as aggregations of what physiologists call "motor units," each consisting of a single nerve fiber plus the muscle fibers it innervates. At various points along the motor nerve, individual fibers exit the nerve to make contact with a variable number of skeletal-muscle fibers.

Motor units come in a variety of sizes. Small ones have single, thin nerve fibers that innervate several muscle fibers, whereas the lone, thicker nerve fiber in a larger motor unit may innervate several thousand of them. Normally, when motion is initiated, it takes stronger stimulation to "fire" thick nerve fibers than thin ones. Thus, the smaller, so-called "slow-twitch" muscle fibers start contracting before larger "fast-twitch" fibers.

Fast-twitch fibers are essential for powerful athletic motions such as running, but fatigue quickly as they burn through finite stores of their primary fuel, glycogen. Their more diminutive slow-twitch counterparts, which burn their fuel slowly, are crucial to delicate movements such as those involved in sewing or drawing, as well as for fine-tuning coarser, more powerful movements. Activities relying mainly on small slow-twitch fibers can proceed for long periods of time, while larger but more-fatigable fast-twitch fibers are reserved for brief bursts of high-powered activity.

Previous attempts to restore lost motor function using programmed sequences of electrical impulses, delivered via a cuff placed around a nerve, have enabled paralyzed people to walk, if only for a few minutes. Unfortunately, large nerve fibers are more responsive than smaller ones to electrical stimulation, so muscles contract in the wrong order - large, fast-twitch fibers first, then small, slow-twitch ones; this results in jerky motion and, soon thereafter, fatigue.

For the Nature Medicine'/>"/>

Contact: Bruce Goldman
goldmanb@stanford.edu
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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