A group of scientists from different universities, including Dr. Hidehiko Inagaki, Dr. Susu Chen, and Dr. Karel Svoboda, came together to understand how cues in our environment can trigger planned movement. Neurons in the human brain are active with diverse patterns and timing. The Motor cortex is responsible for the control of movement. The patterns of the motor cortex differ in the phases of movement. The transitions between these phases is a critical part of movement. The brain areas controlling these transitions were a mystery.
To identify the parts of the brain controlling these transitions the group of scientists performed their research on mice.They recorded the activity of neurons in a mouse’s brain when doing a triggered movement task. Researchers found brain activity taking place directly after the go cue and between the stages of movement. This brain activity came from a circuit of neurons in the midbrain, thalamus, and cortex. To determine whether this circuit was a conductor or not the scientists used optogenetics. Through the use of optogenetics Dr. Inagaki and his colleagues were able to identify a neural circuit critical for triggering movement in response to environmental cues. Dr Inagaki says that “We have found a circuit that can change the activity of the motor cortex from motor planning to execution at the appropriate time. This gives us insight into how the brain orchestrates neuronal activity to produce complex behavior.
Not only is this important for the use of knowing more about the brain but it also helps to advance studies of motor disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. By adding environmental cues to trigger movements it could drastically change the mobility of patients.
In Ap Biology class we learned about cell communication. Neurons communicate with each other by releasing specific molecules in the gap between them, called the synapses. The sending neuron passes on messages through neurotransmitters that are picked up by the receptors of the receiving neuron.