Understanding the motor nervous system

altMobility Project scientists are working closely together to learn how the central nervous system develops and organizes itself to control the rhythmic pattern of walking (locomotion). Their complementary expertise is enabling them to assemble the many pieces of a very complex puzzle in order to reveal a complete picture.

Dr. Angelo Iulianella is examining how various types of functional neurons, such as motor neurons and sensory neurons, arise in the spinal cord during pre-natal development. Meanwhile, Dr. Jim Fawcett is learning how neurons establish connections with other neurons, and how groups of neurons in the spinal cord link together in networks to control the rhythmic pattern of walking. Adding to this knowledge, Dr. Ying Zhang studies how various ion channels shape the firing properties of neurons within functioning neural networks. Others have been working further along this continuum, to discover how neural circuits between the brain, spinal cord and muscles are configured and activated to control the rhythm and pattern of walking.

By shedding light on the molecular basis of the motor nervous system’s development and its control of walking, these researchers hope to unlock the door to revolutionary new approaches to functional restoration.