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Controlling movement with light
Date:6/26/2014

w the system works," says Bizzi, who is a member of MIT's McGovern Institute.

Muscle control

Inhibitory neurons in the spinal cord suppress muscle contractions, which is critical for maintaining balance and for coordinating movement. For example, when you raise an apple to your mouth, the biceps contract while the triceps relax. Inhibitory neurons are also thought to be involved in the state of muscle inhibition that occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.

To study the function of inhibitory neurons in more detail, the researchers used mice developed by Guoping Feng, the Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, in which all inhibitory spinal neurons were engineered to express an opsin called channelrhodopsin 2. This opsin stimulates neural activity when exposed to blue light. They then shone light at different points along the spine to observe the effects of neuron activation.

When inhibitory neurons in a small section of the thoracic spine were activated in freely moving mice, all hind-leg movement ceased. This suggests that inhibitory neurons in the thoracic spine relay the inhibition all the way to the end of the spine, Caggiano says. The researchers also found that activating inhibitory neurons had no effect on the transmission of sensory information from the limbs to the brain, or on normal reflexes.

"The spinal location where we found this complete suppression was completely new," Caggiano says. "It has not been shown by any other scientists that there is this front-to-back suppression that affects only motor behavior without affecting sensory behavior."

Now that they have demonstrated the usefulness of optogenetics for this type of study, the MIT team hopes to explore the roles of other types of spinal cord neurons. They also plan to investigate how input from the brain influences these spinal circuits.

"There's huge interest in trying to extend these studies and dissect
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Contact: Sarah McDonnell
s_mcd@mit.edu
617-253-8923
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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