Theses Doctoral

Specifying neurons and circuits for limb motor control

Mendelsohn, Alana Irene

The emergence of limbs in vertebrates represents a significant evolutionary innovation. Limbs facilitate diverse motor behaviors, yet require spinal networks that can coordinate the activities of many individual muscles within the limb. Here I describe several efforts to characterize the specification of spinal motor neurons and assembly of spinal circuits in higher vertebrates. I discuss the formation of selective presynaptic sensory inputs to motor pools, a process which has long been thought to occur in an activity-independent manner. I demonstrate an as yet unappreciated role of activity-dependent refinement in patterning the set of sensory-motor connections that link motor pools with synergist function. I also explore the genetic specification of motor pools that project to defined muscle targets. I show that the motor pools that control digits engage distinct developmental genetic programs which reflect underlying differences in Hox and retinoic acid signaling. The divergent mechanisms underlying the specification of digit-innervating motor neurons may reflect the unique status of digit control in the evolution of motor behavior.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Jessell, Thomas M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 4, 2016