Getting a grip on hand function at Dalhousie University

Professor and neurosurgeon Dr. Rob Brownstone and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Tuan Bui have identified the spinal cord circuit that controls the hands’ ability to grasp.

The world’s leading neuroscience journal, Neuron, published the breakthrough finding in its latest issue.

The researchers have found that a certain population of neurons in the spinal cord — called the dI3 interneurons — assess information from sensory neurons in the hands and then send the appropriate signals to motor neurons in the spinal cord, and hence to the muscles, to control the hands’ grip.

Dr. Rob Brownstone established the Motor Control Lab in 2000, after joining Dalhousie Medical School from the University of Manitoba. Dr. Brownstone’s primary goal is to identify and characterise neural circuits that control movement. Understanding these circuits is critical for the development of strategies that will lead to improvements in quality of life in people with peripheral nerve or spinal cord injuries, or diseases of their nervous systems, that impair their ability to move. They work in close collaboration with research teams in adjacent labs that are also pursuing solutions to mobility problems as part of the Atlantic Mobility Action Project. This enables the active sharing of resources and cross-pollination of ideas to create a vibrant atmosphere of discovery.

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