Study sheds light on how our brains move limbs

(Medical Xpress)—A Queen's University study is giving new insight into how the neurons in our brains control our limbs. The research might one day help with the design of more functional artificial limbs.

"We've taken a step closer to understanding how our arms and legs work and how we move our bodies," says neuroscience researcher Tim Lillicrap, who worked with neuroscience professor Stephen Scott on the study.

The researchers used a novel network model, coupled with a computer biophysics model of a limb, to explain some of the prominent patterns of neural activity seen in the brain during movements.

The findings refine previous notions of how neurons in the primary motor cortex fire and drive muscles. The is the region of the brain that sends the largest number of connections to the spinal cord.

When moving an arm or a leg, are sent along to control the movement of limbs. Different movements require different patterns of nerve impulses—the relationship between these neural patterns and the resulting movements is poorly understood.

The study demonstrates that the patterns of activity are related to specific details of the limb physics—for example, the patterns of are tuned (or optimized) for muscle architecture and limb geometry.

Dr. Lillicrap, who did the study as part of his Phd thesis at Queen's and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford University in England, says better understanding of how the brain controls limbs will help develop in the future.

The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal Neuron.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Thinking with the spinal cord?

Jan 23, 2007

Two scientists from the University of Copenhagen have demonstrated that the spinal cord use network mechanisms similar to those used in the brain. The discovery is featured in the current issue of Science.

Eye movement not engaged in arms race, researchers find

Feb 28, 2012

We make our eye movements earlier or later in order to coordinate with movements of our arms, New York University neuroscientists have found. Their study, which appears in the journal Neuron, points to a mechanism in the ...

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments