New clues to abnormal brain signals in movement disorders

New research on neural signals could help lead to additional treatments for movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease or psychiatric conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sensory signals in the brain’s cerebral cortex have a different pattern of connections between nerve cells and different effects on behavior than motor signals do, the researchers report.

Learning how to tie a shoe or shoot a basketball isn’t easy, but the brain somehow integrates sensory signals that are critical to coordinating movements so you can get it right. The cerebral cortex plays a key role in controlling movement and other functions. The motor area of the cortex sends signals to stimulate muscles.

For the new research, scientists investigated a brain region called the striatum in mice. The striatum, which integrates signals from the sensory and motor areas of the cerebral cortex, is severely compromised in diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Striatum figure
Left: A diagram showing connections between the motor and sensory areas of the cerebral cortex to the striatum. Right: A schematic of the opposite behavioral outcomes of stimulating the motor and sensory pathways to the striatum, resulting in decreased or increased impulsivity. (Credit: Alex Yonk)

“We found that stimulation of sensory cortex signals caused mice to stop their actions during a behavioral task, but motor cortex signals caused them to perform the task more impulsively,” says senior author David J. Margolis, an assistant professor in the cell biology and neuroscience department at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

Future research will investigate the patterns of signaling between the cerebral cortex and striatum during different types of learning paradigms in mice to understand nerve cell connection mechanisms.

The ultimate goal is to understand how abnormal cortex-striatum signaling is involved in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The research appears in the journal Current Biology. The Rutgers Brain Health Institute Pilot Grant Program, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation funded the research.

Source: Rutgers University