Tadpole brains studied to help understand Parkinson's

Tadpoles It is hoped that by studying the simpler system of a tadpole it may uncover core principles in the adult brain

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Computer models of tadpoles' brains are being developed as part of a £1.3m project to understand how the brain makes the decision to move.

Researchers say it could lead to a better understanding of what happens in the brains of people suffering from diseases like Parkinson's.

They chose to study tadpoles, due to a detailed knowledge about the creatures' nerve cells controlling swimming.

Plymouth University is working with biologists in Bristol and St Andrews.

The computer models will show how sensory signals are interpreted by the brain and lead to the initiation movement.

Parkinson's disease

  • Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition caused by a deficiency of dopamine
  • Named after Dr James Parkinson, a physician who published An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817
  • The main symptoms are tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement
  • Drugs, therapies and occasionally surgery can help to control symptoms, but only for limited time periods
  • There is currently no cure for Parkinson's and it is not clear why some people get it and others do not

Scientists from the university said while the response in most animals to walk, run, swim or fly away can seem very simple compared to our ability to think, talk or learn, the details of the way nervous circuits in the brain operate with spinal cords to initiate movement is still poorly understood.

To simplify the problem, researchers chose the "very small" newly-hatched frog tadpole, where they have detailed knowledge about the nerve cells controlling swimming.

It is hoped that the research will provide broader insights into how brain networks controlling locomotion are organised.

In the brain of mammals, like humans, when these networks go wrong, they can cause severe problems with movement, like in Parkinsonism, where people can find that their movements become slower.

The three-year project is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

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