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Flexible, fine-grained control of motoneurons supports voluntary movement

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Voluntary movement requires communication from cortex to the spinal cord, where a dedicated pool of motor units (MUs) activates each muscle. The canonical description of MU function, established decades ago, rests upon two foundational tenets. First, cortex cannot control MUs independently but supplies each pool with a common drive that specifies force amplitude. Second, as force rises, MUs are recruited in a consistent order typically described by Henneman’s size principle. While this paradigm has considerable empirical support, a direct test requires simultaneous observations of many MUs over a range of behaviors. We developed an isometric task that allowed stable MU recordings during rapidly changing force production. MU responses were surprisingly flexible and behavior-dependent. MU activity could not be accurately described as reflecting common drive, even when fit with highly expressive latent factor models. Neuropixels probe recordings revealed that, consistent with the requirements of fully flexible control, the cortical population response displays a surprisingly large number of degrees of freedom. Furthermore, MUs were differentially recruited by microstimulation at neighboring cortical sites. Thus, MU activities are flexibly controlled to meet task demands, and cortex has the capacity to contribute to that ability. 


Prof. Mark Churchland

Journey Description


E - Main Entrance/Reception
1 - Managing Board; sections: Infection Biology Unit, Unit of Infection Models, Laboratory Animal Science Unit, Primate Genetics Laboratory, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit, Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, Neurobiology Laboratory, Research Coordination, Public Relations, Information Technology, Administration, Technical Support, Library.
2 - Material Delivery/Purchase
3 - Platform Degenerative Diseases
4 - Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
5 - Animal Husbandry
6 - Imaging Center, Functional Imaging Laboratory

Arrival by car

Leave the interstate A7 at exit "Göttingen Nord". Follow the B27 straight ahead in the direction of "Braunlage". After the third traffic light intersection turn right towards "Kliniken". Afterwards turn left onto "Robert-Koch-Straße" direction "Universität Nordbereich/Polizei". At the end of "Robert-Koch-Straße" turn right onto "Otto-Hahn-Straße", direction "Nikolausberg". The first street on the left turn onto "Kellnerweg", follow the signs "Deutsches Primatenzentrum".

Arrival by bus

The footpath from the bus stop "Kellnerweg" to the Main Entrance/Reception: 
From Bus stop "Kellnerweg" (line 21/22 and 23) Cross the road, go in the direction of the bus. At the mailbox, turn left into the footpath and proceed to the end. Turn right into the Kellnerweg. The main entrance of the DPZ is on the left side.

Date and Time 07.10.21 - 17:00 - 19:00 Signup is not required

Location online-Veranstaltung


Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung

Kellnerweg 4

37077 Göttingen

Contact Roberta Nocerino
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