Researchers find neural cells in rat brain that are tuned to posture

November 2, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
When rats are exploring their environment, they spend time on all fours – a ‘neutral’ default position – but also raised up on their hind legs. When researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience recorded the firing of neurons in rats exploring a two-meter by two-meter box they found that many fewer neurons fired when the rat was in its neutral position compared to when it was in a posture less often visited, such as rearing up on its hind legs. Credit: Goran Radosevic

A team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has isolated a group of neural cells in rat brains that are tuned to posture. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes experiments they carried out with rats while studying their brains in action, and what they found. Guifen Chen with University College London have written a Perspective piece on the work done by the team in the same journal issue.

The ability of animals to orient their bodies is one of the more remarkable feats carried out by the brain. But the mechanism still mostly remains a mystery. In this new effort, the researchers investigate the role of posture in orientation and which parts of the brain are involved.

To learn more about how the brain processes orientation, the researchers set up six cameras around a test rat to view and record its movements in a confined space, and tracked its posture with six degrees of freedom. They also inserted a silicon probe into a test rat's brain to watch as different brain regions became active. This setup allowed the researchers to compare in different parts of the rat brain with certain physical postures, such as sitting on hind legs.

Scientists explain that in two parts of the brain, the posterior parietal cortex and the frontal motor cortex, more neurons fire when the body is in a specific posture or position than when the body is in a neutral position. Credit: Rita Elmkvist Nilsen/Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience

The researchers identified neurons in the and the frontal motor cortex that were associated with changes in posture. So close were the associations that the could actually predict which posture a rat was assuming by simply watching neural activity in these two brain regions.

In her Perspective piece, Chen suggests the findings by the research team are groundbreaking—they run contrary to the notion that the active areas observed by the team are mostly motion centered. But they also give rise to even more questions—some of which might be answered with further research. As just one example, she wonders if neurons associated with posture become active only when a posture is achieved, or if they continue firing as that is held in place.

When a tennis player hits a ball, she moves through a series of postures to ensure that her racquet connects with the ball. The ability to hit the ball requires the brain to be aware of your body’s position in space, a concept called ‘body schema.’ A new paper published in Science shows that many more neurons in two parts of the brain called the posterior parietal cortex and the frontal motor cortex, fire when the body is in certain postures or positions versus when the body is in a more neutral position. Credit: Goran Radosevic

Explore further: Study results suggest improving posture may help reduce depression

More information: Bartul Mimica et al. Efficient cortical coding of 3D posture in freely behaving rats, Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aau2013

Related Stories

Study results suggest improving posture may help reduce depression

February 6, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at the University of Auckland has found evidence that suggests people who are depressed can improve their outlook simply by modifying their posture while sitting. In their paper published ...

Math + good posture = better scores

August 3, 2018
If you've ever felt like a deer in the headlights before taking a math test or speaking before a large group of people, you could benefit from a simple change in posture. As part of a new study by researchers at San Francisco ...

Neurons in rat brains responsible for monitoring speed identified

July 16, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers working at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has isolated the neurons in the rat brain that are responsible for monitoring speed as rats run, walk or stop moving around. ...

Kneeling posture impacts chest compressions' effectiveness

October 17, 2017
(HealthDay)—During cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed by males, self-adjusted and nearest kneeling postures are more effective for chest compression, with lower perceived exertion, according to a study published ...

Neuroscientists map brain cell activity that occurs during the delay between sensation and action

September 8, 2016
A UC Santa Barbara researcher studying how the brain uses perception of the environment to guide action has a new understanding of the neural circuits responsible for transforming sensation into movement.

Recommended for you

How the brain switches between different sets of rules

November 19, 2018
Cognitive flexibility—the brain's ability to switch between different rules or action plans depending on the context—is key to many of our everyday activities. For example, imagine you're driving on a highway at 65 miles ...

Scientists identify novel target for neuron regeneration and functional recovery in spinal cord injury

November 19, 2018
Restoring the ability to walk following spinal cord injury requires neurons in the brain to reestablish communication pathways with neurons in the spinal cord. Mature neurons, however, are unable to regenerate their axons ...

Mutation that causes autism and intellectual disability makes brain less flexible

November 19, 2018
About 1 percent of patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability have a mutation in a gene called SETD5. Scientists have now discovered what happens on a molecular level when the gene is mutated ...

Signal peptides' novel role in glutamate receptor trafficking and neural synaptic activity

November 19, 2018
Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, and the postsynaptic expression level of glutamate receptors is a critical factor in determining the efficiency of information transmission and the activity ...

MDMA makes people cooperative, but not gullible

November 19, 2018
New research from King's College London has found that MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, causes people to cooperate better—but only with trustworthy people. In the first study to look in detail at how MDMA impacts cooperative ...

Study explains behavioral reaction to painful experiences

November 19, 2018
Exposure to uncomfortable sensations elicits a wide range of appropriate and quick reactions, from reflexive withdrawal to more complex feelings and behaviors. To better understand the body's innate response to harmful activity, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.