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Observation about how nervous system learns and encodes motion could improve stroke recovery
Date:1/7/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., January 7, 2010 Bioengineers have taken a small step toward improving physical recovery in stroke patients by showing that a key feature of how limb motion is encoded in the nervous system plays a crucial role in how new motor skills are learned.

Published in the November 25, 2009 issue of Neuron, a Harvard-based study about the neural learning elements responsible for motor learning may help scientists design rehabilitation protocols in which motor adaptation occurs more readily, potentially allowing for a more rapid recovery.

Neuroscientists have long understood that the brain's primary motor cortex and the body's low-level peripheral stretch sensors encode information about the position and velocity of limb motion in a positively-correlated manner rather than as independent variables.

"While this correlation between the brain's encoding of the position and the velocity of motion is well-known, its potential importance and practical use has been unclear until now," says coauthor Maurice A. Smith, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Center for Brain Science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Smith and colleagues showed that the correlated neural tuning to position and velocity is also present in the neural learning elements responsible for motor learning. Moreover, this correlated drive can explain key features of the motor adaptation process.

To study and record motor adaptation, the researchers had subjects grasp a robotic arm. The device was programmed to simulate novel physical dynamics as subjects made reaching motions. In addition, the team used a newly developed measurement technique called an "error-clamp" to tease apart the resulting data.

The method measures motor output during learning, allowing learning-related changes in motor output over the course of a movement to be dissociated from fee
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Contact: Michael Patrick Rutter
mrutter@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-3815
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert  

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