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Studying the spinal cord using cats

The ability of cats to always land on their feet may give important insights into how to treat spinal cord injury and problems with balance.

A new study from Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Drexel University, Philadelphia, both USA, studied how laboratory-bred cats, walking on a treadmill, co-ordinated their legs to stop them from falling when met with an obstacle.

The spinal cord is needed to control movement and reflexes, but injuries to this area, as well as old age, can cause issues with balance and walking.

Although mice are commonly used to study movement, they are less likely to have issues with balance as they crouch when they move. Therefore, there is a benefit to studying cats as they balance in a similar way to humans.

The scientists observed that the nerves in cats which sense touch, and that transmit these signals to the brain, were important for helping the animals stay upright.

The research group has now developed a computational model of how the spinal cord can co-ordinate movement. They are currently studying whole-body responses before and after spinal cord injury in the same cats.



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