DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICAL & STATISTICAL SCIENCES
UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA
MONDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2002
Dr. Kelvin E Jones
Department of Biomedical Engineering
University of Alberta
Input-Output Functions of Mammalian Spinal Motoneurons
The alpha-motoneurons in the spinal cord are one of the most extensively studied cells in the central nervous system. The pragmatist would point out that this is due to the relative ease of studying these cells in a wide variety of animals. I prefer a more sentimental explanation; motoneurons are the final pathway from the nervous system to the muscle and so essential to life and communication in all its forms. Motoneuron disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a steadily progressive disease leading to weakness and wasting of muscles while the intellect remains unaffected. Sensation is not affected in the disease, so over time while the patient is fully able to feel and think, they become less and less able to care for themselves and communicate. I think this is reason enough to learn more about these particular cells.
I will describe my work on the electrophysiology of motoneurons and the strange attraction that led me to do this with differential equations pulling me away from the lab bench. We will first discuss how probability theory and geometry brought about the first widespread model of human motoneurons and how a more detailed biophysical model proved it wrong. We will then focus on the interaction of electrophysiology and modelling and provide examples of how simulations can eliminate bad biophysical hypotheses and predict the most likely ionic mechanisms of electrophysiological behaviour. The seminar will conclude with a look at the possibilities of computational neuropharmacology in guiding interventions in spasticity.