Motor neurons are a specialized type of brain cell called neurons located within the spinal cord and the brain. They come in two main subtypes, namely the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons. The upper motor neurons originate in the brain and travel downward to connect with the lower motor neurons. The latter localize both in the brainstem and the spinal cord and are the mediators between the brainstem and the spinal cord and their peripheral targets, the muscles.
The activity of motor neurons is modulated by a network of other neurons, located within the spinal cord and the brain. These networks are known as motor circuits and are responsible for complex behaviors such as locomotion. Pathological perturbations in motor circuits affecting motor neurons directly or indirectly are involved in many diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Research at the Motor Neuron Center is focused in unraveling and understanding the mechanisms involved in neurodegenerative diseases. Principal investigators at the MNC employ cellular and animal models using advanced genetic, molecular, morphological and physiological tools to study the molecular, synaptic, cellular and circuit mechanisms responsible for the cause of the disease.