Two Brain Cell Types Regain Body Balance
News Jan 31, 2018 | Original Story from the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, UCL
A new study published today in Cell Reports describes how a region of the brain called the lateral vestibular nucleus (LVN) is key to maintaining balance and keeping the body on its feet after experiencing a disturbance.
Researchers monitored the muscle activity in the limbs of mice as they walked along a balance beam that was nudged at specific intervals and identified a predictable pattern that enabled the mice to regain their balance.
Balance beam used to study balance in mice. © Sainsbury Wellcome Centre
Building on previous research, which had identified multiple brain regions involved in balance, this new study details how one specific region can orchestrate a series of precisely timed muscle activations to respond to unexpected changes in the environment and thereby stop animals from falling over.
Group Leader at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, and first author on the paper, Andrew Murray, Ph.D., commented on the importance of the research: “This is the first study that has pointed to the LVN as the region of the brain that generates reactive responses to an external perturbation. While prior studies revealed a lot about the sensory input needed to create a righting reflex, the parts of the brain that generate a change in muscle activity based on this sensory input have not been well described.”
The LVN was found to first activate muscles to put the foot back down onto the beam in response to a balance perturbation, and then strengthen and stabilize the limb muscles and joints to enable the animal to reposition itself back over the centre of the balance beam and continue walking along.
The researchers characterised two distinct cell types within the LVN that work together to generate an appropriate motor response consisting of two phases: the LVNextensor population, which generate muscle extension, and the LVNco-activation population, which co-activate antagonistic muscles in the hindlimbs.
This article has been republished from materials provided by The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, UCL. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Murray et al. ‘Balance Control Mediated by Vestibular Circuits Directing Limb Extension or Antagonist Muscle Co-activation.’ Cell reports
When infants are playing with objects, their early attempts to pay attention to things are accompanied by bursts of high-frequency activity in their brain. But what happens when parents play together with them? New research shows for the first time that when adults are engaged in joint play together with their infant, their own brains show similar bursts of high-frequency activity.
Many species of mammals have evolved what appear to be paradoxical behaviours towards their young. Like humans, most exhibit nurturing, protective behaviours, and in some circumstances even act as surrogate parents. However, virgin males often engage in infanticide as a strategy to propagate their own genes. How are these conflicting social behaviours controlled?