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In flies, a single brain cell can drive multiple movements of the body

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03/20/24 | In flies, a single brain cell can drive multiple movements of the body

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Motor neurons are the cells the brain uses to command muscles to act. Scientists typically thought of them as simple connections, much like the cables that link computers with their accessories.  

Now, in studies conducted at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus and Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, researchers have discovered that single motor neurons can each direct an insect’s body to move in far more complex ways than previously thought. 

"This is one of the first times scientists have analyzed in 3D what single motor neurons do while the body moves naturally," said Stephen Huston, an associate research scientist at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute and the study’s corresponding author. "You can't understand how the brain makes the body move without knowing what each motor neuron does, just as you can't understand how a puppeteer makes a marionette move without understanding what the puppet strings do." 

Read more on the Zuckerman Institute website.  



Benjamin Gorko, Igor Siwanowicz, Kari Close, Christina Christoforou, Karen L. Hibbard, Mayank Kabra, Allen Lee, Jin Yong Park, Si Ying Li, Alex B. Chen, Shigehiro Namiki, Chenghao Chen, John C. Tuthill, Davi D. Bock, Hervé Rouault, Kristin Branson, Gudrun Ihrke and Stephen J. Huston. “Motor neurons generate pose-targeted movements via proprioceptive sculpting.” Nature. Published March 20, 2024. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-024-07222-5.