Dr Maarten Zwart

Project Title: How do neurons in the brain direct different movements?

A central view in neuroscience is that brain neurons send the commands to start, stop and change movements, while neurons in the spinal cord carry them out. Defects in the pathways between them underlie common neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy.

However, in previous work we have shown that the brain can also directly affect how each movement is performed, giving it direct control over the very fine details of behaviour. This application aims to explore these results by combining state-of-the-art technologies with the unrivalled set of genetic tools of the fruit fly Drosophila. This insect provides an ideal model organism to address this question: it has a varied, sufficiently complex set of behaviours, yet its nervous system is composed of a relatively small number of neurons that are uniquely identifiable and amenable to both activity imaging and manipulations. Crucially, a wiring diagram of its nervous system is now available, allowing us to see how each neuron within the brain is connected.

This proposal will take the first step towards understanding how the neurons in the brain direct the spinal cord neurons: to identify which cells are involved in this process. This data will give us insights into how brains generate the varied movements we use to interact with the world. They address an unsolved question that lies at the heart of our understanding of the nervous system, and its normal and abnormal function.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Anatomy, Physiology & Neurosciences

University: University of St Andrews

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