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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Research project: Modelling neural responses

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We can make remarkably precise movements of our limbs that are controlled by huge numbers of neurones within the peripheral and central nervous systems. Insects are also able to produce precise movements of their limbs even though the numbers of neurones present are many orders of magnitude less than in mammals. How is this remarkable control achieved and how do the relatively small numbers of neurones in the insect central nervous system achieve the high degree of versatility of movement and similar precision of higher animals?

It has been argued that the precision and versatility in control resides in the different types of interneurones present within the neural network that generates and control the limb movement, their modes of communication, by both digital and analogue signals, and in the way that they perform computations. However, few studies have systematically analysed the responses of the interneurones nor have they related the morphological features of the interneurones to their integrative properties.

In addition we know little of how the nervous system performs the integrative task of processing different sensory parameters; are there specialist neurones or populations of neurones that process different signals (high frequency versus low frequency inputs, or velocity versus position or acceleration), what are the benefits of digital (spike-train) signalling compared to analogue (continuously varying cell potentials) signalling, and what do different branches of a neurone contribute to integration compared to the whole cell?

Understanding how the insect nervous system solves the problem of controlling precise movements will ultimately have many benefits, including a better understanding of how the nervous systems performs complex control tasks, generating new hypotheses on how the brains of more complex vertebrates solve similar tasks, and will provide the basis for biologically inspired engineering solutions to movement control. The work is being carried out in collaboration with Dr David Simpson, Prof. Robert Allen, Prof Brian Mace and Dr Emiliano Rustighi from the Institute for Sound and Vibration Research.

Related research groups

Biomedical Sciences
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