It calibrates movements in the face of a changing environment to coordinate them in a very precise way," lead author, Megan Carey, said in a statement.Carey is the principal investigator and group leader of the Neuroscience Program at the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal.
But here, all we had to do was control how fast mice were running to obtain an improvement.It would be interesting to see if this holds for humans, for cerebellar forms of learning — and even for other types of learning," Carey said in a statement.Eyeblink conditioning is a common way to test the speed and efficacy of associative learning in the cerebellum.The mice in this study who had their treadmills set at a faster speed learned to associate the flash of light (which normally doesn’t cause mice to blink) with a puff of air more quickly.In a statement, first author of this study, Catarina Albergaria, summed up, “Our main finding was that we could make mice learn better by having them run faster.” Notably, the researchers also found that subsequent eyeblink performance benefited from faster running speeds.
"The mice performed less well when we slowed down the treadmill, and this happened at time scales of a few seconds,” Albergaria said.
The authors conclude, “Our results suggest that locomotor activity modulates delay eyeblink conditioning through increased activation of the mossy fiber pathway within the cerebellum.
Taken together, these results provide evidence for a novel role for behavioral state modulation in associative learning and suggest a potential mechanism through which engaging in movement can improve an individual’s ability to learn.” Future research in the Carey Lab will try to answer bigger questions, such as why walking and other types of aerobic exercise seem to help us coordinate thoughts, organize ideas, and come up with creative solutions.
After identifying a causal link between running speeds and associative learning in the cerebellum, the researchers were curious to pinpoint where this enhancement was taking place within the “little brain.” For this phase of their study, the research team used optogenetics to stimulate specific neurons that project to the cerebellum called “mossy fibers.” Within the cerebellum, sensory information is relayed from mossy fibers to granule cells in a way that allows a single mossy fiber axon to influence a huge number of Purkinje cells.
Interestingly, when the researchers stimulated the mossy fibers using optogenetics, they observed enhanced learning on par with faster running speeds.
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