Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Complex neural circuitry keeps you from biting your tongue


Similar wiring diagram may be used elsewhere in the brain

Eating, like breathing and sleeping, seems to be a rather basic biological task. Yet chewing requires a complex interplay between the tongue and jaw, with the tongue positioning food between the teeth and then moving out of the way every time the jaw clamps down to grind it up. If the act weren't coordinated precisely, the unlucky chewer would end up biting more tongue than burrito.

In this blue cross-section of a mouse brain, two colors of fluorescent dye trace the premotor neurons that close the jaw and stick out the tongue, revealing how the brain is wired to coordinate these muscles during chewing, drinking, and vocalizing.

Credit: Fan Wang Lab, Duke University

Duke University researchers have used a sophisticated tracing technique in mice to map the underlying brain circuitry that keeps mealtime relatively painless. The study, which appears June 3 in eLife, could lend insight into a variety of human behaviors, from nighttime teeth grinding to smiling or complex vocalizations.

"Chewing is an activity that you can consciously control, but if you stop paying attention these interconnected neurons in the brain actually do it all for you," said Edward Stanek IV, lead study author and graduate student at Duke University School of Medicine. "We were interested in understanding how this all works, and the first step was figuring out where these neurons reside."

Previous mapping attempts have produced a relatively blurry picture of this chewing control center. Researchers know that the movement of the muscles in the jaw and tongue are governed by special neurons called motoneurons and that these are in turn controlled by another set of neurons called premotor neurons. But the exact nature of these connections -- which premotor neurons connect to which motoneurons -- has not been defined.

Senior study author Fan Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, has been mapping neural circuits in mice for many years. Under her guidance, Stanek used a special form of the rabies virus to trace the origins of chewing movements.

The rabies virus works naturally by jumping backwards across neurons until it has infected the entire brain of its victim. For this study, Stanek used a genetically disabled version of rabies that could only jump from the muscles to the motoneurons, and then back to the premotor neurons. The virus also contained a green or red fluorescent tag, which enabled the researchers to see where it landed after it was done jumping.

Stanek injected these fluorescently labeled viruses into two muscles, the tongue-protruding genioglossus muscle and the jaw-closing masseter muscle. He found that a group of premotor neurons simultaneously connect to the motoneurons that regulate jaw opening and those that trigger tongue protrusion.

Similarly, he found another group that connects to both motoneurons that regulate jaw closing and those responsible for tongue retraction. The results suggest a simple method for coordinating the movement of the tongue and jaw that usually keeps the tongue safe from injury.

"Using shared premotor neurons to control multiple muscles may be a general feature of the motor system," said Stanek. "For other studies on the rest of the brain, it is important to keep in mind that individual neurons can have effects in multiple downstream areas."

The researchers are interested in using their technique to jump even further back in the mouse brain, eventually mapping the circuitry all the way up to the cortex. But first they plan to delve deeper into the connections between the premotor and motoneurons.

"This is just a small step in understanding the control of these orofacial movements," Stanek said. "We only looked at two muscles and there are at least 10 other muscles active during chewing, drinking, and speech. There is still a lot of work to look at these other muscles, and only then can we get a complete picture of how these all work as a unit to coordinate this behavior," said Stanek.


The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NS077986 and DE019440).

CITATION: "Monosynaptic Premotor Circuit Tracing Reveals Neural Substrates for Oro-motor Coordination," Edward Stanek IV, Steven Chang, Jun Takatoh, Bao-Xia Han, and Fan Wang. eLife, June 3, 2014. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.02511

Karl Bates | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Complex circuitry individual movement muscles neurons rabies technique teeth

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New study reveals what's behind a tarantula's blue hue
01.12.2015 | University of California - San Diego

nachricht Tracing a path toward neuronal cell death
01.12.2015 | Brigham and Women's Hospital

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How do Landslides control the weathering of rocks?

Chemical weathering in mountains depends on the process of erosion.

Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

European Geosciences Union meeting: Media registration now open (EGU 2016 media advisory 1)

01.12.2015 | Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

USGS projects large loss of Alaska permafrost by 2100

01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences

New study reveals what's behind a tarantula's blue hue

01.12.2015 | Life Sciences

Climate Can Grind Mountains Faster Than They Can Be Rebuilt

01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>