Process Identified That May Help Treat Parkinson's, Spinal Cord Injuries


A new discovery by University of Minnesota researchers may lead to a better understanding of how the spinal cord controls how people walk. These insights could help lead to treatments for central nervous system maladies such as Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

The study, headed by Joshua Puhl, Ph.D., and Karen Mesce, Ph.D., in the Departments of Entomology and Neuroscience, discovered it's possible that the human nervous system - within each segment or region of spinal cord - may have its own "unit burst generator" to control rhythmic movements such as walking.

By studying a simpler model of locomotion, in the medicinal leech, the research shows where these unit burst generators reside and that each nerve cord segment has a complete generator. When a neuron fires, it sets off a chain reaction that gives rise to rhythmic movement. Once those circuits are turned on, the body essentially goes on autopilot.

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