Stepping up our understanding of the brain

Confocal image of a mouse cerebellum. The neurons identified by the researchers in this study are shown in green. Credit: Aloysius Low.

Walking or playing a musical instrument are complex tasks that require the coordination of our limbs. These activities are controlled by the cerebellum at the back of our brain, which can be disrupted by head injury or Parkinson’s disorder.

To decipher which neurons in the cerebellum are responsible for goal-directed movements such as walking or writing, Asst Prof Albert Chen of NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and Prof George Augustine from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine generated mice with distinct groups of output neurons in their cerebellum genetically modified to switch on and off when a light is shone on them.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, the researchers defined the functional relevance and connectivity of a highly specialised subpopulation of neurons in the deep cerebellum that—together with other regions of the brain—directs limb movements in a precise and effective manner.

According to the researchers, their study may lead to a more detailed understanding of human motor function and inspire research into treatments for movement disorders stemming from injury or disease.

Details of the study “Precision of discrete and rhythmic forelimb movements requires a distinct neuronal subpopulation in the interposed anterior nucleus” can be found in Cell Reports (2018), DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.02.017.
This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #14, December 2018).

You may also like...