Study reveals a brain circuit underpinning locomotor speed control

A brain circuit underpinning locomotor speed control
Brainstem neurons controlling the spinal networks that control locomotion. Credit: Eva Berg

Researchers at Karolinska have uncovered how brain circuits encode the start, duration and sudden change of speed of locomotion. The study is published in Neuron.

Locomotion—"moving around" in the form of walking, running or swimming—is a universal behavior that allows us to interact with the world around us. An accurate control of the start and duration of a locomotor episode, combined with the ability to execute prompt changes in vigor and speed, are key features for the flexibility of . For example, we can suddenly change the speed of our locomotion from slow walking to running to adjust to our surroundings.

"Using the zebrafish as a , our previous work has revealed that the neurons in the responsible for the execution of locomotion are assembled in that comprise three modules, which act as gearshift mechanisms to increase the speed," says Abdel El Manira, Professor at the Department of Neuroscience, and corresponding author of the article.

"An outstanding question that re-mained unsolved is how the upstream circuits, residing in the brain-stem, encode and convey the start, duration and change in locomotor speed to these executive circuits in the spinal cord."

Important findings

By exploiting the relative accessibility of adult zebrafish, combined with a broad range of techniques, the researchers can now reveal two that encode the start, duration and sudden change in locomotor speed.

The brain circuits represent the initial step in the sequence of commands coding for the onset, duration, speed and vigor of locomotion. The two command streams revealed here, with their to the spinal circuits, allow the animal to navigate through their environment by grading the speed and strength of their locomotor movements, while at the same time controlling directionality. These mechanisms in adult zebrafish can be extrapolated to mammalian model systems.

A brain circuit underpinning locomotor speed control
Graphical abstract. Credit: Neuron (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2022.10.034

Mapping connectivity

The next step will be to map the connectivity between these brain circuits and those in the spinal cord driving locomotion.

Hopefully, the circuit revealed in the study can guide designing novel therapeutic strategies aimed at restoring after traumatic spinal cord injury.

More information: Eva M. Berg et al, Brainstem circuits encoding start, speed, and duration of swimming in adult zebrafish, Neuron (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2022.10.034

Journal information: Neuron
Citation: Study reveals a brain circuit underpinning locomotor speed control (2022, November 25) retrieved 30 May 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Locomotor engine in the spinal cord revealed


Feedback to editors