Exploring development and functional organization of neural circuits controlling movement
Much of the nervous system is devoted to motor control. However, little is understood about how neural circuits orchestrate movement. By studying the organization, function, and diversity of neurons in the brain and spinal cord, our laboratory aims to reveal how neural circuits control motor behavior. This work will provide insight into how spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS disrupt the ability to move.
Movement is how we interact with the world and is essential for life. Even though much of the nervous system is devoted to the control of movement, little is understood about how these neural circuits orchestrate coordinated motor output. Our laboratory takes advantage of sophisticated molecular, genetic, imaging, and behavioral approaches to study motor circuits in the spinal cord and brain that govern the body’s adaptive responses and reflexive behaviors. We aim to provide insight into the molecular and cellular identity of neurons forming these circuits, understand how these neurons receive and convey information, and ultimately define the functional logic used by these circuits to generate behavior. Our research therefore focuses on three key areas: the diversity of cell types in the nervous system, the connectivity of spinal motor circuits, and the functional role of different interneuron populations in motor control.
Our current research builds upon our previous work on the V1 class of spinal interneurons, which are critical for flexion/extension movements and controlling locomotor speed. We use cutting-edge single-cell transcriptomic and epigenomic methodologies, electrophysiology, and computational approaches to reveal the molecular and cellular identity and gene regulatory networks that define diverse interneuron cell types that compose the neural circuits responsible for movement.
We are interested in understanding the synaptic architecture and circuit connectivity of interneurons in the spinal motor system. Using viral transsynaptic tracing, optogenetics, and whole-brain imaging approaches, we aim to define how distinct descending systems in the brain convey information to molecularly distinct subsets of spinal interneurons, and how these interneurons in turn control motor neuron activity.
We are interested in understanding how the spinal motor system takes advantage of a huge diversity of neuronal types to generate behavior. Toward this end, we use genetically tractable mouse models to manipulate neuronal activity in specific interneuron subsets and explore the functional consequences of these perturbations on motor output using electromyography and high-resolution kinematic and behavioral analysis.
Jay B. Bikoff, PhD
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital