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Studies identify spinal cord neurons that control skilled limb movement
Date:5/1/2014

imals' ability to reach was severely compromised, indicating that the PN copy pathway is capable of influencing the outcome of goal-directed reaching movements.

The PN copy signal also works blazingly fast. It takes just 4 to 5 milliseconds for motor neuron activity to be altered after transmission of a PN copy signal. "These reaching movements typically take 200 to 300 milliseconds, so the PN copy signal pathway appears well equipped to correct arm movements," said Dr. Azim. The researchers think that this copy signal represents just one of many similar internal feedback pathways that the spinal cord and brain use to validate and correct movements throughout the body.

Are these findings relevant to human motor performance? Many of the pathways and circuits that influence reach and grasp in monkeys and humans are conserved in mice. "We need to learn more about these pathways before we can evaluate how their dysfunction contributes to deficits seen after spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disease," said Dr. Azim.

In the second Nature study, CUMC researchers examined how spinal circuits regulate sensory feedback from muscles to control movement. The simplest form of this feedback system involves a reflex pathway (such as the knee-jerk reflex), in which sensory endings in muscles convey signals to the motor system through direct monosynaptic connections with motor neurons. Signals from motor neurons, in turn, cause muscles to contract, completing the reflex cycle.

Researchers have long wondered how the strength of this sensory signal might be regulated. Studies had shown that spinal interneuronsin particular those that release the neurotransmitter GABA, inhibiting neuronal activityplay a key role in this process. But most GABA-releasing interneurons exert their effects postsynaptically, by blocking the excitation of neurons on the receiving end of a synapse (the gap across which two neurons communicate).

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Contact: Karin Eskenazi
ket2116@cumc.columbia.edu
212-342-0508
Columbia University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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