Neural Control of Movement

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Unknown


We know surprisingly little about how the brain decides to start and then control an apparently simple movement such as picking up a glass of water. Yet the consequences that occur when the system goes wrong, as in Parkinson?s disease or after a stroke, are only too clear. This CoOperative Group brings together scientists who study control of movement with a range of different methods, from recording single neurones in animals, to computer modelling of arm movements in robots. It also involves clinicians studying new treatments to rehabilitate patients who have difficulties in moving. Tackling the problem with a range of techniques allows us to see how a problem in one part of the central nervous system can have knock-on effects at many other different sites. Some of these changes help compensate for disease or brain injury, others, such as the spasticity seen after stroke are maladaptive and block recovery. Our aim is to describe the complex interactions between different levels of control in the CNS and show how this can be used to target treatments more effectively in disease and after trauma.

In the next five years we will target (a) disorders of movement that are caused by genetic deficits (e.g. some forms of Parkinson?s disease or torsion dystonia), to understand how the gene interferes with specific functions in the motor control system. (b) New neurosurgical approaches to treat movement disorders, such as deep brain stimulation in Parkinson?s disease. Here we aim to identify how the brain reacts to these stimulators, and whether they induce any long term changes in the way the brain controls movement. (c) Finally we will examine processes involved in recovery after stroke and spinal injury in order to understand why, despite apparently similar amounts of damage, some patients may go on to make a good recovery whereas others in the same age group will fare poorly.

Technical Summary

The purpose of this COGG is to create a multidisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians who work together in the field of motor neuroscience. Their aim will be to apply techniques and insights gained from basic research in animal models and computational neuroscience to studies of human motor control in health and disease. The new priorities for the next quinquennium are to extend our work into (a) the genotype-phenotype link in dystonia and other movement disorders, (b) understanding the mechanisms and consequences of neurosurgical approaches to treat movement disorders, (c) increase knowledge of the basic mechanisms of plasticity that underpin recovery of movement after stroke. Several of the individual grants held by COGG members address parts of these problems, but the advantage of the COGG is that each study uses shared techniques and common analysis so that, for example, we will be able to compare the plasticity seen after damage to the adult CNS with the reaction of a system that has developed in the face of a faulty gene product. Computational approaches will help us define better tasks to study the basic building blocks of motor control. New mathematical techniques that we have developed will extract far more information from neurophysiological signals in both healthy and diseased brain than has been possible in the past.


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Description Project Grant
Amount £250,000 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2013 
End 09/2016
Title Custom electronics 
Description Custom stimulators (DC), amplifiers (for input devices or audio ouputs) and signal processing modules 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2007 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact These are described under the component grant section of this CoOperative Group. Effectively, the electronics development eased acquisition of data 
Description journalist interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact preparation of newspaper and magazine articles

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006