In this podcast coauthors Dr. Jonas M.D. Enander of Lund University and Dr. Gerald E. Loeb of the University of Southern California discuss their companion papers titled “A Model for Self-Organization of Sensorimotor Function: The Spinal Monosynaptic Loop" and "Spinal Interneuronal Integration” with Editor in Chief Prof. Nino Ramirez. In the first paper the authors present a model of a simple but biologically realistic musculoskeletal system with spindle primary afferents that become selectively connected to homonymous beta motoneurons as a result of Hebbian adaptation. The second paper models a later stage of spinal cord development in which populations of excitatory and inhibitory interneurons similarly develop patterned connectivity involving a complete set of somatosensory afferents, motoneurons and each other. Without any a priori defined connectivity or organization, Hebbian learning driven by spontaneous, fetal-like motor activity results in the emergence of well-functioning spinal circuits whose connectivity patterns resemble those observed in the adult mammalian spinal cord. The authors suggest that genetic transcriptomes that appear during development may specify phases and rules for adaptive development rather than muscle-specific wiring patterns. The emergent behavior of their model system has important implications for the evolution of new species and potential applications for bio-inspired robots.
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