The finding is reported in Nature Neuroscience, online May 16, and highlighted in the magazine's "news and views" section.
Simon Alford, University of Illinois at Chicago professor of biological sciences and the article's corresponding author, said the role of a neurotransmitter associated with this parallel pathway may also suggest new research directions for treating Parkinson's disease.
Alford, along with his former graduate student and lead author Roy Smetana, now a University of Pittsburgh resident in psychiatry, worked with Université de Montréal and Université de Québec à Montréal neurobiologist Réjean Dubuc and his post-doctoral researcher Laurent Juvin in trying to sort out how the neurotransmitter analog muscarine modifies sensory information going to the brain.
Their work determined that muscarine stimulated neural activity, leading to locomotion in the laboratory lampreys.
The group focused its attention on a collection of brainstem neurons that tell the spinal cord to generate motor output that enables walking and other locomotion.
"We started looking at this group of neurons, which in the lamprey are conveniently very large, so they're easy to plant electrodes and record from," said Alford. "We discovered the muscarinic excitation was not working on these cells, but on a previously unknown group of cells within the brainstem."
What's more, these newly discovered brainstem neurons showed what Alford called a "very odd response" to the muscarine.
"Instead of just turning on -- like a synapse turns on a neuron and makes it fire -- when you put muscarine on these cells, they turn on and stay on" for a minute or longer which he said for a neurological reaction can be a very long time.
The researchers discovered the actual brain neurotransmitter that activates muscarine receptors -- another chemical, acetylcholine -- sends a signal to these newly discovered brainstem neurons, switching them on for the lengthy minute or so durations.
Alford said the finding opens up new insights into animal locomotion.
"It's a system for turning on your locomotor system and making you walk or run in a very coordinated, straight-line fashion sustaining locomotion for a considerable time," he said. "This simply was not known to exist before we discovered it."
The role of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine may ultimately suggest new Parkinson's disease treatments. While a key Parkinson's symptom is tremor, an advanced stage symptom is the inability to start a movement, such as walking. Symptoms associated with Parkinson's can be helped by reducing acetylcholine-mediated neurotransmission in the brain, but little work has focused on brainstem muscarine receptors in this disease.
"This may be a backdoor finding into a secondary effect of Parkinson's disease that's not well studied because most research emphasis has been on dopamine and the basal ganglia, a different neurotransmitter and region of the brain," Alford said.
Major funding for the research came from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Paul Francuch | EurekAlert!
The end of pneumonia? New vaccine offers hope
23.10.2017 | University at Buffalo
Scientists track ovarian cancers to site of origin: Fallopian tubes
23.10.2017 | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
23.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
23.10.2017 | Life Sciences
23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine