The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded Martha Bagnall, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine, a $1.9 million R01 grant to map neuronal connections in the zebrafish spinal cord.
The Bagnall Lab studies motor control and how various cell types along the length of the spinal cord organize their communication networks to coordinate movement. The latest project builds upon prior work in one set of neurons, called V1, which inhibits the activity of other neurons. The team found that V1 axons form connections with different cell types depending on the location in the spinal cord; nearer the cell body, V1 interfaces with motor neurons and participates in controlling swimming movements, while farther up the spinal cord the axon synapses on sensory cells. This discovery laid the foundation for tracing the neuronal circuitry for motor control in the spinal cord.
The grant, which is the second R01 Bagnall has received as an assistant professor, will support research to expand this connectivity map to five additional cell types in the spinal cord. The work involves electrophysiological experiments using optogenetics to selectively activate particular neurons and observe responses in downstream cells. The researchers will use these results to build a computational model of spinal cord circuitry they can manipulate to understand the contributions of cell-type interactions to movement.