Insight into motor cortex function from in vivo imaging of individual neurons

The cortex is a thin layer on the surface of the brain where most information processing takes place. The cortex is separated into several layers. There are large numbers of neural interconnections that exist between the different cortical layers, as well as many connections with neurons of the spinal cord. In the somatosensory cortex, where the perception of touch is analyzed, there is a spatial representation of the body on its surface. The same type of spatial organization exists in the motor cortex, controlling the body's muscles; however, the spatial organization of the motor cortex is not as well defined, and this characteristic allows for more change and adaptation during learning or in motor recovery after a stroke.

Dr. Matthieu Vanni will explore the participation of independent neurons in the different layers of the motor cortex of the mouse. The mouse is a model that will be used in these studies because it provides opportunities to manipulate the genome, which will be a major asset in stages of this project. Dr. Vanni will be measuring the activation of identified neurons using two-photon microscopy, which achieves a sub-cellular resolution in living tissue. The neuronal activation in the motor cortex will be measured in response to natural movements and/or following excitation/inactivation of individual neurons of the network.

The results of this study will help to better understand the information processing of motor tasks in the brain. This knowledge could have an impact on the understanding of how the brain adapts during learning and after stroke. Furthermore, understanding these cellular aspects will have important implications in the design of therapeutic rehabilitations such as prosthetic or brain stimulation, limiting post-stroke physical disability. This project will use novel applied optical methods: two-photon microscopy and optogenetics. The exceptional resolution and specificity of these new methods will have a strong impact in many other fields as well; for example, they may be applied to study neural compensation mechanisms observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.