Watching "Walking" Nerves Learn

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Science  16 Jan 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5349, pp. 320
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5349.320

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Researchers have long known that in the brain, learning goes with subtle changes that strengthen or weaken the connections between neurons. As a result, they've assumed that similar neuronal "plasticity" also underlies the ability of the spinal cord to learn how to control walking after an injury destroys connections to the brain (see main text). But while plasticity had been seen in other motor systems, no one had directly seen it in the spinal cord's walking circuits--until now, that is. Working with cats, neurobiologists have shown that the influence of sensory nerves in the spinal locomotor system can adapt to compensate for an injury.