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Advances in Health and Medicine

The Brain at Rest, Causing Motion


Boxers working their speed bags don’t think, "Throw the left. Now, the right." Punching becomes wired into their muscle memory. Pitt neuroscientists want to know how that process works.

Pitt neuroscientist Peter Strick and his colleagues examine the roots of voluntary movement, kinesiology, physiology, and the formation of muscle memory. These studies influence understanding of biomechanics, rehabilitation, systems neuroscience, and neurobiology. Strick studies boxers’ fists as well as monkeys’ paws in order to gain a more complete and detailed map of neural circuitry.

Pitt neurological research has revealed, among other things, that different areas of the brain can multitask. While fear or anger, for example, were previously believed to be rooted in specific brain segments, research has shown that various parts of the brain play a part in generating emotions. Similar multitasking occurs in the neural origins of movement.

"The conventional view of the brain used to be one of localization," notes Pitt neuroscientist Richard Dum. "This part of the brain controls movement, this part controls thought, this part does feelings. They each have their own discrete roles. But there is a lot more interaction and cooperation going on."

Research on movement and the brain is also the focus of Pitt's Rehab Neural Engineering Lab (RNEL), where director Douglas Weber investigates how sensory feedback affects motor control. They hope to develop new technologies for assisting and restoring motor function after nervous system injuries or losses of limbs.