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Study breaks ground in revealing how neurons generate movement
Date:4/24/2008

o treat paralysis and motor dysfunctions, such as those resulting from stroke. The brains messages dont reach the muscles in these conditions, says Schoppik, so its critical that the drive to these prosthetics reflect what the brain is trying to do to move muscles. Understanding how multiple neurons work together could influence the type of software created to drive these devices.

The investigation of how neurons give rise to motor behaviors has been stymied until now, says Schoppik, by the difficulties inherent in studying more than one neuron in action at a time during the course of a behavior. In the current study, the scientists overcame this obstacle in a study of macaque monkeys that had been trained to track a moving object with their eyes.

Basing their approach on two key pieces of information -- first, that when a neuron responds to a stimulus there is always a slight variation in its performance, a phenomenon that neuroscientists traditionally refer to as noise, and, second, that each attempt of the eye to pursue a moving target is also unique they proposed that some aspects of neural variation may reflect behavioral variation.

They used this inherent variability as a probe. Using a formula from financial securities market analysis that looks at how individual stocks behave at a given time within the context of fluctuations in the larger financial market, they explored how individual neurons would behave relative to their neighbors.

They compared the deviations from the average spiking activity of single neurons and simultaneous deviations from the mean eye velocity. They also measured the degree to which variation shared across two pairs of concurrently active neurons.

The data demonstrated that individual neurons encode different aspects of behavior, controlling eye velocity fluctuations at particular moments during the course of eye movement, while the population of neurons collectively tiles the entire
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Contact: Jennifer OBrien
jobrien@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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