Motor Control, Muscle Function, and Disease

Research in motor control deals primarily with the control of limb movement in three-dimensional space and hand-eye coordination, including the functions of the motor cortex, basal ganglia, cerebellum and cerebellar afferent systems, and the nature of sensorimotor transformations controlling movement. These As skeletal muscles are the final effector organ for the central and peripheral nervous system control of movement, muscle function is critical for movements and postural stability. There are over 40 diseases that affect motor function, either at the muscle level or the nervous system level, from genetic mutations such as muscular dystrophy to brain injury such as stroke. The neuroscience of the central nervous system control of motor systems is another area of excellence for the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. Within this group of faculty, many of the muscle scientists participate in the Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center, with a particular focus on skeletal and cardiac muscle function and disease. The neuroscientists who work on the control of movements and skeletal muscle function use the full span of research approaches from the molecular to the computational level. The research in these laboratories have been greatly facilitated by several large university initiatives that have brought large amounts of state funding to these areas, including MNDrive and new state funding for Aging, Optical Imaging, and Brain Science.

Specifically, research interests are diverse and focus on: understanding how distinct groups of neurons function in motor cortex relative to movement direction; neural control of action through the study of motor learning in new dynamic environments; neural control of complex spatial-temporal sequence behavior; how the brain encodes information to plan and execute movements; role of cerebellum in movement control; neural mechanisms of motor pattern generation; neural mechanisms underlying cognitive processes that control motor behavior; high resolution spatio-temporal functional neuroimaging to understand sensory, motor, and cognitive functions of the brain; development of neuromodulation technologies for treatment of neurological movement disorders; interventions for stroke; understanding the mechanisms behind dysfunctions of the cerebellum and basal ganglia; optogenetic and electrophysiological approaches to understanding epilepsy and complex neuronal function; using magnetoencephalography (MEG) to understand control of movement; brain control of disorders of movement such as Parkinson’s disease, ataxia, and dystonia; generation and development of motor behaviors; molecular mechanisms of plasticity in eye movement disorders; genetics of spinal cerebellar ataxia; mechanisms to repair spinal cord injury; neural mechanisms underlying information processing leading to movements; and studies focusing on integration of visual, haptic, and motor information during perception and action; peripheral nerve neuropathies; deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and other motor disorders; muscle stem cells and the sparing of extraocular muscles in muscular dystrophies; genetic engineering of muscle cells; use of viral vectors for genetic therapeutics for muscle disorders; and studies into the biophysics of muscle function at the molecular level.