Skilled motor movements of the sort tennis players employ while serving a tennis ball or pianists use in playing a concerto, require precise interactions between the motor cortex and the rest of the brain. Neuroscientists had long assumed that the motor cortex functioned something like a piano keyboard.
"Every time you wanted to hear a specific note, there was a specific key to press," says Andrew Peters, a neurobiologist at UC San Diego's Center for Neural Circuits and Behavior. "In other words, every specific movement of a muscle required the activation of specific cells in the motor cortex because the main job of the motor cortex was thought to be to listen to the rest of the cortex and press the keys it's directed to press."
But in a study published in this week's advance online publication of the journal Nature, Peters, the first author of the paper, and his colleagues found that the motor cortex itself plays an active role in learning new motor movements. In a series of experiments using mice, the researchers showed in detail how those movements are learned over time.
"Our finding that the relationship between body movements and the activity of the part of the cortex closest to the muscles is profoundly plastic and shaped by learning provides a better picture of this process," says Takaki Komiyama, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research team. "That's important, because elucidating brain plasticity during learning could lead to new avenues for treating learning and movement disorders, including Parkinson's disease."
With Simon Chen, another UC San Diego neurobiologist, the researchers monitored the activity of neurons in the motor cortex over a period of two weeks while mice learned to press a lever in a specific way with their front limbs to receive a reward.
"What we saw was that during learning, different patterns of activity—which cells are active, when they're active—were evident in the motor cortex," says Peters. "This ends up translating to different patterns of activity even for similar movements. Once the animal has learned the movement, similar movements are then accompanied by consistent activity. This consistent activity moreover is totally new to the animal: it wasn't used early in learning even with movements that were similar to the later movement."
"Early on," Peters says, "the animals will occasionally make movements that look like the expert movements they make after learning. The patterns of brain activity that accompany those similar early and late movements are actually completely different though. Over the course of learning, the animal generates a whole new set of activity in the motor cortex to make that movement. In the piano keyboard analogy, that's like using one key to make a note early on, but a different key to make the same note later."
The study was supported by grants from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Pew Charitable Trusts, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Human Frontier Science Program and New York Stem Cell Foundation.
Kim McDonald | Eurek Alert!
Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY
NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences