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These boosts are made for walkin'
Date:3/13/2014

Whether you're a Major League outfielder chasing down a hard-hit ball or a lesser mortal navigating a busy city sidewalk, it pays to keep a close watch on your surroundings when walking or running. Now, new research by UC San Francisco neuroscientists suggests that the body may get help in these fast-changing situations from a specialized brain circuit that causes visual system neurons to fire more strongly during locomotion.

There has been a great deal of research on changes among different brain states during sleep, but the new findings, reported in the March 13 issue of Cell, provide a compelling example of a change in state in the awake brain.

It has long been known that nerve cells in the visual system fire more strongly when we pay close attention to objects than when we view scenes more passively. But the new research, led by Yu Fu, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSF lab of senior author Michael P. Stryker, PhD, the W.F. Ganong Professor of Physiology, breaks new ground, mapping out a visual system amplifier that is directly activated by walking or running.

Though this circuit has not yet been shown to exist in humans, Stryker is designing experiments to find out if it does. He said he would be surprised if his group did not identify a similar mechanism in people, since such systems have been found in fruit flies, and the mouse visual system has so far proved to be a good model of many aspects of human vision.

"The sense of touch only tells you about objects that are close, and the auditory system is generally not as sensitive as the visual system to the exact position of objects," he said. "It seems that it would be generally useful to have vision -- the sensory modality that tells you the most about things that are far away -- work better as you're moving through the world."

Stryker said that the neural system identified in the new work may have evolved to conserve energy, by allowing the brain to
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Contact: Peter Farley
peter.farley@ucsf.edu
415-502-6397
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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