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Adaptive motor control

The world around us is continually changing and so our motor output must be constantly monitored and adapted in response to changes in our environment, internal state or behavioural goal. This flexibility requires the coordination of sensorimotor circuits throughout the nervous system.

At SWC, research focuses on how the nervous system generates adaptive and flexible movement. We study the neural circuits of the brainstem, which link the learning structures of the neocortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum on the one hand, and motor execution circuits of the spinal cord on the other.

Our aim is to reveal how brainstem circuits integrate multiple streams of information so we can understand how the nervous system as a whole generates flexible motor actions.

Current research

The Murray lab have developed a novel behavioural assay in which mice receive postural perturbations and must initiate a corrective motor response in a context-dependent manner. 

In collaboration with the Mrsic-Flogel lab the team are developing a conceptual framework for understanding the role of the cerebellum and motor neocortex in adaptive motor control. They suggest that the neocortex implements a robust corrective response to unanticipated perturbations of sensory feedback while the cerebellum learns to provide a robust corrective response to anticipated perturbations. 

They are currently testing this theory using new closed-loop virtual reality and augmented reality behavioural assays within which they can introduce perturbations of sensory feedback – similar to the challenges faced by rodents in their natural habitat – which require the animals to rapidly adjust their motor strategy. 

The teams are looking to understand the underlying mechanism by measuring and manipulating neural circuits across the two structures. In addition, in a collaboration with the Clopath lab, the data will be used to build a model that explains the computations performed by cerebellum and cortex during adaptive motor control.