We always think that the brain is the control center for everything else in our bodies, but it seems that the spinal cord also plays a very significant role. According to a new study, the spinal cord can process and control more complex functions than the scientists knew until now.
While the science already revealed that the spinal cord controls the pain reflex in humans and some motor-control functions in animals, the scientists presumed that spinal cord’s functions don’t stop to that.
“This research has shown that at least one important function is being done at the level of the spinal cord. It opens up a whole new area of investigation to say, ‘What else is done at the spinal level and what else have we potentially missed in this domain?’” stated Andrew Pruszynski from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
The Spinal Cord Controls More Complex Functions Than Scientists Knew
For their study, the researchers put specialized robotic technology, an exoskeleton from the Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, on the participant in the research. The subjects were asked to place their hands on a specific target. The robotic arm was set to move the subjects’ hands away from the target by both flexing and extending the wrist and the elbow. The researchers measured how much it took for the muscles to respond to the bump from the exoskeleton.
“We found that these responses happen so quickly that the only place that they could be generated from is the spinal circuits themselves. What we see is, these spinal circuits don’t really care about what’s happening at the individual joints – they care about where the hand is in the external world and generate a response that tries to put the hand back to where it came from,” said Jeff Weiler, a Ph.D. at Schulich.
“A fundamental understanding of the neurocircuits is critical for making any kind of progress on rehabilitation front. Here, we can see how this knowledge could lead to different kinds of training regimens that focus on the spinal circuitry,” concluded Andrew Pruszynski.