Nav: Home

Motor learning tied to intelligent control of sensory neurons in muscles

March 31, 2016

Sensory neurons in human muscles provide important information used for the perception and control of movement. Learning to move in a novel context also relies on the brain's independent control of these sensors, not just of muscles, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

Each muscle can have tens or hundreds of encapsulated sensory receptors, and these "sensors" are called muscle spindles. Spindles differ from other sensory receptors as they also receive nerve fibers from the central nervous system itself, which acts to control spindle output.

There are more nerve fibers travelling to and from spindles than to the actual muscle tissues generating force and powering movement. Despite more than a hundred years of research on this class of sensory receptors, however, it has been unclear how, why and when the nervous system chooses to independently control spindles.

"The findings strongly point to independent control of these sensors during motor learning," says Dr. Michael Dimitriou, who conducted the study and is a researcher at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Umeå University in Sweden.

In this study, Dr. Dimitriou monitored spindle signals in humans while they learned to control the position of a visual cursor by moving their hand (much like using a computer mouse). Depending on what stage in the learning process, the spindles sent very different signals in response to virtually identical movements.

The research shows that the sensory capability of spindle neurons was adjusted according to the ongoing requirements of the task being learned. In other words, muscle spindle signal patterns were changed during the learning process to become selectively informative about different aspects of movement.

"It is well-known that effective extraction of information is a major component in good learning performance, and this is true in motor adaptation as well. Richer and more relevant sensory information from spindles allows for efficient update of the computational circuits in our brain that guide movement. Differing levels of skill in controlling muscle sensors is probably a factor defining individual differences in motor learning performance," says Dr. Dimitriou.

Beyond increased understanding of how human motor learning works, the current findings may also have more practical implications, such as in prosthetic limb and robotics control, argues Michael Dimitriou:

"To use a common example, computer algorithms can easily defeat a human in a game of chess. However, even the most sophisticated robot cannot match the skill and dexterity of a child in moving pieces on the chessboard. Better understanding of human sensory control is a way forward."
-end-


Umea University

Related Learning Articles:

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.
Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.
Sleep readies synapses for learning
Synapses in the hippocampus are larger and stronger after sleep deprivation, according to new research in mice published in JNeurosci.
Learning from experience is all in the timing
Animals learn the hard way which sights, sounds, and smells are relevant to survival.
More Learning News and Learning Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...