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Sleep twitches facilitate motor cortex development in rats

Sleep twitches enrich coding of sensory information, lay groundwork for later motor functions

Society for Neuroscience

Research News


IMAGE: Mean percentage of twitches (blue) and wake movements (red) that yielded population responses of 0-10% to 90-100% of neurons at P8 (left) and P12 (right). Median values for twitches (blue... view more 

Credit: Glanz et al., JNeurosci 2021

Electrical activity in the motor cortex of rats transforms from redundant to complex over the span of four days shortly after birth. Sleep twitches guide this metamorphosis, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

Despite its name, the motor cortex doesn't control movement right off the bat. Early in development, this part of the brain is solely a sensory structure. Feedback from self-generated movements -- sleep twitches in particular -- may build representations of the body that will later orchestrate movement.

To characterize this transition, Glanz et al. recorded electrical activity from the motor cortex of rat pups eight and 12 days after birth while monitoring their behavior. On both days, sleep twitches drove more electrical activity than wake movements. Twitches on postnatal day eight (P8) activated many neurons at the same time -- there was high redundance. This redundance disappeared by P12: each twitch activated a smaller group of neurons, a sign of maturing circuits. Larger twitches induced larger responses on P8, a trend not seen on P12. Yet the motor cortex became more sensitive to small twitches by P12. These changes mark a key developmental transition in the motor cortex facilitated by sleep twitches.


Paper title: Sensory Coding of Limb Kinematics in Motor Cortex Across a Key Developmental Transition

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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