Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

human spine

Bui’s team at the Neural Motor Control Laboratory focuses on understanding how the nervous system and spinal cord allow us to move. Image: Pexel / Provided

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Computational modeling is used to mimic how zebrafish swim

On September 2, 2021, Tuan Bui, a professor at the University of Ottawa, published an article entitled “Modeling Spinal Locomotor Circuits for Movements in Developing Zebrafish.” Bui’s team at the Neural Motor Control Laboratory focuses on understanding how the nervous system and spinal cord allow us to move.

Bui explains that there are hundreds of thousands of nerve cells (or neurons) located in the human spinal cord, and they are responsible for coordinating all of our muscles in the body. When we want to reach out for something, the command originates from the brain and is then translated by the neurons and sent down to the spinal cord. These neurons can then determine which muscles they need to move to make it move.

In an interview with Fulcrum, Bui further explained his research involving zebrafish.

“So it’s very difficult to study the spinal cord of a human because it’s encapsulated in the spine, which is a bone structure. That means it’s also really hard to study the individual neurons in it. [human spinal cord]. But with zebrafish, none of that is a problem. “

He continued, “when a zebrafish develops, it is transparent, so under a microscope you can see the nervous system as it forms. You can also see the neurons being born and you can see them connect to begin to control the zebrafish’s movements. . “

The ability to see the development of the zebrafish’s nervous system under the microscope has provided a fantastic advantage over other animal models of the spinal cord. Bui says that as the zebrafish moves and develops at an extremely rapid rate, “within a few days of the egg being fertilized, the zebrafish’s embryos and larvae begin to swim.”

The professor’s research did not use live zebrafish. Instead, the team used computational modeling using data from previous papers from his laboratory, which studied zebrafish’s spinal cord in addition to data obtained from other laboratories. The advantage of using data from other laboratories is that they were able to describe individual cell populations in the spinal cord. This means that a particular cell population could be found responsible for controlling the swimming speed or how hard they swim.

“We have worked together to try to take all these different components of the model and try to figure out what is the best way to connect them so that the model is eventually able to swim like a zebrafish underneath. a microscope, ”said Bui.

He added, “so from there we tried to see if the theories about what each cell can do and if it gets through in the model, and then we try to see how a cell population can affect other cells. So get a good feel of which cell population drives the rhythm or cell modulation. “

The researcher explained that when we walk and move our legs, we need to coordinate the left side and right side of our body, and if we fail to do so, we would simply jump on both legs like a kangaroo. Zebrafish also coordinate their left and right sides to swim forward. The researchers involved in this study were able to identify how this coordination occurs and which cell population is responsible for maintaining the tail rhythm. This is important because the cells responsible for beats allow animals to constantly walk toward or swim toward their intended destination.

In addition to identifying new roles for certain cell populations, researchers discovered that “when zebrafish grow, they show a transition between three different movements. Similar to how a baby learns to walk. For zebrafish initially, they make these massive body bends, but they have only one body bent at a time, and eventually they can do two. So if they make those little quick tail strokes from one side to the other, then they can propel themselves forward. ”

Bui continued, “as we tried to model more mature and skilled movements, we had to add new neurons to the mix. So we think that kind of indicates that when we learn to walk, the spinal cord begins to integrate more neurons. , so that we can walk properly, and the wires to these different neurons must be changed to allow us to acquire new motor skills. ”

The professor hopes that this will guide future experiments in this particular cell population as well as determine what new changes can be correlated with a new movement and determine their role.

In the future, Bui and his team look forward to using mice, zebrafish, and their newfound knowledge of how the spinal cord works by using it to treat spinal cord injury. To learn more about Bui and his research, visit his website here.

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