Ian Duguid

Dr Ian Duguid is a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences.

Motor control is a basic but fundamentally important aspect of human and animal behaviour. We now know much about how the brain’s two motor areas work but key questions remain. Understanding how these parts of the brain initiate and control complex motor movements in the healthy and diseased brain could shed light on conditions like autism spectrum disorder and motor neurone disease.

Neurons within the cerebral cortex control higher brain functions such as sensory perception, decision making and ultimately motor control. In the primary motor cortex (M1), output neurons – depicted in the image as fluorescently-tagged neurons in layer 5 of the neocortex – integrate a wealth of information from other brain areas in order to generate behaviourally relevant motor commands that propagate to the spinal cord to initiate complex muscle movements. Understanding what information layer 5 neurons receive and how they process this information in health is a necessary prerequisite for understanding the mechanistic basis of diseases that affect motor control.

The ability to precisely control and coordinate different groups of muscles is necessary not only to carry out specific tasks such as walking and writing but also for maintaining posture and balance. The primary motor cortex (M1) and cerebellum are two key brain areas involved in the initiation and control of complex motor movements. After decades of focused research we now have a rich understanding of how activity patterns in these brain areas relate to specific aspects of motor behaviour.

What remains unresolved is how single neurons and neuronal ensembles in these motor areas transform afferent synaptic input into behaviourally-relevant spike output patterns. Specifically, we are concerned to establish what spatiotemporal patterns of synaptic input do neurons in M1 and the cerebellum receive during behaviour? What information is propagated from the cerebellum to primary motor cortex and vice-versa? And finally, what are the cellular and network mechanisms that transform afferent synaptic input to behaviourally-relevant motor commands?

To address these fundamental questions, our group focuses on trying to understand the principles that govern the initiation and control of complex motor movements — in the healthy and diseased brain.

By combining in vivo electrophysiology, 2-photon calcium imaging, viral-based circuit mapping, behaviour and computational modeling, we aim to understand:

  1. How individual neurons and complex neuronal networks process sensorimotor information during behaviour
  2. How neuromodulation regulates cortical processing during changes in behavioural state
  3. The cellular and network changes that lead to severe sensorimotor dysfunction in mouse models of neurodevelopmental disorders, for instance in Rett syndrome.

Email: Ian.Duguid@ed.ac.uk

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