Theses Doctoral

Behavioral Strategies and Neural Control of Skilled Locomotion in Mice

Warren, Richard A.

The brain evolved to control behavior, and locomotion is among the behaviors most critical to animal survival. The neural mechanisms of skilled locomotion have been studied for decades, yet recently developed technologies offer the opportunity to shine new light on this long studied behavior. I leveraged these technologies to develop a system for studying the behavioral strategies and neural mechanisms of skilled locomotion in mice.

In Chapter 2, I use detailed 3D kinematic tracking and behavioral modelling to describe a rapid sensorimotor decision that determines the kinematic strategies used by mice to step over obstacles. Despite the whisker dependency of this behavior, performance is minimally affected by manipulations of whisker sensory cortex, whereas motor cortex manipulations impair but did not prevent obstacle clearance. Neither cortical manipulation substantially impacts the sensorimotor decision.

In Chapter 3, we turn to the cerebellum. The cerebellum is thought to contribute to the coordination of movement, as evinced by the locomotor deficits that are a hallmark of cerebellar ataxia. However, much cerebellar research has focused on simple behaviors involving single body parts. Furthermore, the recent discovery of reward signals in the cerebellar cortex has drawn attention to its potential non-motor functions, but whether such signals exist in the output of the cerebellum is unknown. We conducted an electrophysiological survey of the deep cerebellar nuclei to characterize the signals communicated by the cerebellum to downstream structures.

Preliminary analyses from this ongoing work suggest that cerebellar output is dominated by orofacial and locomotor signals, whereas reward related modulations are largely accounted for by the behavioral correlates of reward delivery. Collectively, these results demonstrate that quantitative whole body analyses of ethologically inspired behaviors can enhance our understanding of the neural control of sensorimotor behaviors.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Sawtell, Nathaniel B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 12, 2022