Winter 2015

A Hard Scientific Quest: Understanding Voluntary Movements

Authors
Emilio Bizzi and Robert Ajemian
Abstract

In this article we explore the complexities of what goes on in the brain when one wishes to perform even the simplest everyday movements. In doing so, we describe experiments indicating that the spinal cord interneurons are organized in functional modules and that each module activates a distinct set of muscles. Through these modules the central nervous system has found a simple solution to controlling the large number of muscle fibers active even during the execution of the simplest action. We also explore the many different neural signals that contribute to pattern formations, including afferent information from the limbs and information of motor memories.

EMILIO BIZZI, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1980 and President of the Academy from 2006 to 2009, is Institute Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His recent publications include articles in such journals as Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Neuron, and the Journal of Neurophysiology.

ROBERT AJEMIAN is a Research Scientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His publications include articles in such journals as Neuron, Cerebral Cortex, the Journal of Motor Behavior, and the Journal of Neurophysiology.

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