Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Spinal cord findings could help explain origins of limb control

Date:
January 9, 2014
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Researchers have found that the spinal cord circuits that produce body bending in swimming fish are more complicated than previously thought. In a study of zebrafish, they report that differential control of an animal's musculature -- the basic template for controlling more complex limbs, such as in humans -- is already in place in the spinal networks of simple fish. The data could help clarify how vertebrates made the transition from water to land.

We might have more in common with a lamprey than we think, according to a new Northwestern University study on locomotion. At its core, the study of transparent zebrafish addresses a fundamental evolution issue: How did we get here?

Related Articles


Neuroscientists Martha W. Bagnall and David L. McLean have found that the spinal cord circuits that produce body bending in swimming fish are more complicated than previously thought.

Vertebrate locomotion has evolved from the simple left-right bending of the body exemplified by lampreys to the appearance of fins in bony fish to the movement of humans, with the complex nerve and muscle coordination necessary to move four limbs.

Bagnall and McLean report that differential control of an animal's musculature -- the basic template for controlling more complex limbs -- is already in place in the spinal networks of simple fish. Neural circuits in zebrafish are completely segregated: individual neurons map to specific muscles.

Specifically, the neural circuits that drive muscle movement on the dorsal (or back) side are separate from the neural circuits activating muscles on the ventral (or front) side. This is in addition to the fish being able to separately control the left and right sides of its body.

Ultimately, understanding more about how fish swim will allow scientists to figure out how humans walk.

"Evolution builds on pre-existing patterns, and this is a critical piece of the puzzle," McLean said. "Our data help clarify how the transition from water to land could have been accomplished by simple changes in the connections of spinal networks."

The findings will be published Jan. 10 in the journal Science. McLean, an assistant professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Bagnall, a postdoctoral fellow in his research group who made the discovery, are authors of the paper.

"This knowledge will put us in a better position to devise more effective therapies for when things go wrong with neural circuits in humans, such as spinal cord damage," McLean said. "If you want to fix something, you have to know how it works in the first place. Given that the fish spinal cord works in a similar fashion to our own, this makes it a fantastic model system for research."

McLean and Bagnall studied the motor neurons of baby zebrafish because the fish develop quickly and are see-through. They used state-of-art imaging techniques to monitor and manipulate neuronal activity in the fish.

"You can stare right into the nervous system," McLean said. "It's quite remarkable."

The separate circuits for moving the left and right and top and bottom of the fish allow the animal to twist its body upright when it senses that it has rolled too far to one side or the other.

"This arrangement is perfectly suited to provide rapid postural control during swimming," Bagnall said. "Importantly, this ancestral pattern of spinal cord organization may also represent an early functional template for the origins of limb control."

Separate control of dorsal and ventral muscles in the fish body is a possible predecessor to separate control of extensors and flexors in human limbs. By tweaking the connections between these circuits as they elaborated during evolution, it is easier to explain how more complicated patterns of motor coordination in the limbs and trunk could have arisen during dramatic evolutionary changes in the vertebrate body plan, the researchers said.

"We are teasing apart basic components of locomotor circuits," McLean said. "The molecular mechanisms responsible for building spinal circuits are conserved in all animals, so this study provides a nice hypothesis that scientists can test."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Martha W. Bagnall and David L. McLean. Modular Organization of Axial Microcircuits in Zebrafish. Science, January 2014

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Spinal cord findings could help explain origins of limb control." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109143804.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2014, January 9). Spinal cord findings could help explain origins of limb control. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109143804.htm
Northwestern University. "Spinal cord findings could help explain origins of limb control." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109143804.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

Newsy (Mar. 29, 2015) A 508-million-year-old arthropod that swam in the Cambrian seas is thought to share a common ancestor with spiders and scorpions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

AFP (Mar. 29, 2015) Vietnam&apos;s drive to become the world&apos;s leading rice exporter is pushing farmers in the fertile Mekong Delta to the brink, say experts, with mounting costs to the environment. Duration: 02:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) A lioness in Pakistan has given birth to five cubs, twice the usual size of a litter. Queen gave birth to two other cubs just nine months ago. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins