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Oregon study details brain pathways linking visual function, running
Date:7/16/2014

EUGENE, Ore. (July 16, 2014) A new study by researchers at the University of Oregon published today in the journal Neuron describes a brainstem circuit in mice that may help explain how active movement impacts the way the brain processes sensory information.

"Previous studies have examined changes in the visual cortex of mice during running. What was unknown was how do running and vision get linked together in the first place?" said Cristopher Niell, a biology professor in the Institute of Neuroscience and the senior author on the paper "Identification of a Brainstem Circuit Regulating Visual Cortical State in Parallel with Locomotion."

The "aha moment" that inspired the study came five years ago when Niell, as a postdoctoral fellow in Michael Stryker's lab at the University of California, San Francisco, was examining visual perception in mice. He observed that running appeared to be changing how neurons in the brain were firing.

"We found that running turned up the magnitude in the mouse's visual cortex by about two-fold the signals were basically twice as strong when the mouse was running," Niell said.

This initial finding, demonstrating a mind-body connection in the mouse visual system, was published in Neuron in 2010. Following up on this finding, Niell's team sought to identify neural circuits that could link movement and vision together.

The researchers focused on the brain's mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR), which has been shown to mediate running and other forms of activity in many species. They hypothesized that neural pathways originating in the MLR could serve a dual role sending a signal down to the spinal cord to initiate locomotion, and another up to the cortex to turn up the visual response.

Using optogenetic methods, the team created genetically sensitized neurons in the MLR region of the mouse brain that could be activated by light. The team then recorded th
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Contact: Lewis Taylor
lewist@uoregon.edu
541-346-2816
University of Oregon
Source:Eurekalert  

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