April 14, 2014

Meet Soledad Esposito

Soledad Esposito, a postdoctoral fellow in Silvia Arber’s group, studies the neuronal networks that control movement. Her most recent project disentangled the specificity of the brainstem circuitry and has shown that the brainstem controls movement beyond locomotion.

Q: What can you tell us about the role of the brainstem in the control of movement?
Most modern studies in movement control have focused on motor cortex, basal ganglia and spinal cord. However, studies done in cats fifty years ago demonstrated that there are specific regions in the brainstem that function like a switch to initiate the locomotor program. The detailed organization of brainstem circuits and their role in other types of motor behavior is just beginning to emerge. Now we found that there are other regions of the brainstem that form very precise connections to subsets of motor neurons controlling forelimb muscles. In particular, we demonstrated that one of these regions, named MdV, controls the accurate execution of fine movements, such as grasping.

Q: Why do you think have neurobiologists received these results with such enthusiasm?
I think in our study we started to disentangle the specificity of the brainstem circuitry and expanded the current understanding of the brainstem function, demonstrating that not only is it involved in the control of repetitive movements but also in complex motor behaviors.

Q: What is it about these neuronal networks that captures your imagination?
What I love about the brainstem is that there is so much to discover, that there are so many open questions. The challenge of understanding how the intricate brainstem circuitry interacts to control movement motivates me.

Q: The last couple of months before your publication have been tough, with long hours and tight deadlines. What has been the biggest challenge for you and how have you been able to keep up your energy level?
It was a tough period but I did not suffer at all. It was perfect team work, with each one of us pushing forward. I felt supported by the good environment and by my husband. And I was lucky because all last experiments ran smoothly.

Q: What about the future: What do you wish for?
I decided to extend my stay at FMI because I want to learn how to record the activity of neurons in vivo and the FMI offers a great environment to do that. But for my long-term future, I would like to have my own lab and to continue deciphering how motor commands are encoded in the brain and transmitted to the spinal cord to produce movement.

Esposito MS, Capelli P, Arber S (2014) Brainstem nucleus MdV mediates skilled forelimb motor tasks. Nature doi:10.1038/nature13023.

» Read more about the publication