Dalhousie neuroscientist and neurosurgeon Dr. Rob Brownstone and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Tuan Bui have identified the spinal cord circuit that controls the hand’s ability to grasp.

The Brain Repair Centre-affiliated researchers have found that a certain population of interneurons in the spinal cord—the DI3 interneurons—assess information from sensory neurons in the hands and then send the appropriate signals to motor neurons in the spinal cord, and hence to the muscles, to control the hands’ grip.

“This allows us to subtly and unconsciously adjust our grasp so we apply the right amount of force to whatever we’re holding,” explains Dr. Brownstone. “This mechanism is disrupted in spinal cord injuries, which can completely eliminate the ability to grasp, and in neurodegenerative diseases, which can lead to an uncontrollable reflexive grasp such that people grab and can’t let go of whatever they have in their hands.”

The researchers’ discovery has enormous implications for people with hand-function disorders. It has been published in Neuron, one of medical science’s highest-impact journals.  Learn more about this research at DalMedNews.

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