Daily Business Report-Dec. 11, 2017
Credit: Salk Institute/Yolanda Leenders-Goulding
When Your Spinal Cord Takes Charge
Salk scientists discover spinal cord neurons that inhibit distracting input to focus on task at hand
We think of our brain as masterminding all of our actions, but a surprising amount of information related to movement gets processed by our spinal cord.
Now, Salk Institute scientists have solved a longstanding mystery about how our spinal cord knows when to pay attention to certain pieces of information, and when to ignore it as distracting from the task at hand.
The work, appearing in the journal Neuron on Dec. 7, reveals that specific neurons called RORbeta (RORβ) interneurons inhibit transmission of potentially disruptive sensory information during walking in order to promote a fluid gait. The research illustrates a high level of sophistication in spinal cord information processing.
“This research provides a sense of how the nervous system deals with the different types of information that’s coming in to it, and how it uses that information in a way that’s relevant to what it’s actually doing at the time,” says Martin Goulding, a professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory. “Your spinal cord is incredibly smart.”
When we are moving, motor circuits in the spinal cord are constantly being barraged by information from sensory receptors in the skin and muscles, telling these circuits what our limbs are doing or what the ground underfoot feels like. This information is critical for actions like walking or standing still. Often these actions are at odds with each other, so a big question in neuroscience has been how our spinal cord “gates” or traffics different kinds of sensory information that might cause conflicting actions, to ensure that each movement is performed properly.
Goulding’s team discovered that a special set of “middle man” neurons (interneurons) inhibit conflicting sensory information that comes primarily from muscles to prevent it from triggering responses in motor neurons that would lead to conflicting actions. This type of inhibition is termed presynaptic inhibition, because it occurs before the signal is passed across the synaptic gap to neurons on the other side.
The team was led to explore these neurons by earlier experiments by other researchers who had mutated the RORβ gene and found that mice with the mutation had an abnormal duck-like gait. But because RORβ, a regulatory protein known as a transcription factor, is expressed by cells in the brain and in different parts of the spinal cord, it wasn’t clear which location was responsible for the duck gait.
The Goulding lab undertook a series of experiments to isolate the location of the defect using genetic and molecular strategies to disable the RORβ gene in various types of neurons and ask what happens. The duck gait only appeared when they inactivated RORβ inhibitory cells in the dorsal spinal cord.
Cells in the dorsal spinal cord (the back) receive sensory information from the body and then pass it on to neurons in the ventral part of the spinal cord (the front) that generate coordinated movement. In mice that lacked functional RORβ interneurons, the motor neurons that cause their limbs to flex remained active, causing their gait to become duck-like and abnormal. This means that RORβ interneurons are gating—inhibiting—irrelevant sensory information that would interfere with the normal stepping pattern. When RORβ is present, each step is a smooth fluid motion, but when absent, the legs become excessively flexed (bent) and each step is awkward. In humans this would be akin to your knee continuing to stay bent for too long with each step.
“I think what’s really exciting about this project is that we managed to isolate and describe this very local and very specific circuit, which is only active during stepping,” says Stephanie Koch, a Salk research associate and first author of the paper.
Northrop Grumman-Built Fire Scout
Helicopters Experience Pivotal Year
Northrop Grumman Corporation’s autonomous Fire Scout helicopters, the MQ-8B and MQ-8C, continued to strengthen the combat capability and lethality of the U.S. Navy’s air and surface warfare communities throughout 2017, the company said in a new milestones report.
“2017 has been a pivotal year for Fire Scout,” said Capt. Jeff Dodge, U.S. Navy Fire Scout program manager. “Today, operational squadrons are deployed and more are preparing to deploy to meet the expanding needs of the U.S. Navy. The fleet has only scratched the surface of Fire Scout’s true capabilities and the missions Fire Scout will perform. Fleet capability will only grow as the MQ-8C Fire Scout enters the operational force.”
San Diego Council Approves 2 New
Members to Convention Center Board
The San Diego City Council has voted to approve the appointment of Carol Kim and Elvin Lai to the San Diego Convention Center Board of Directors.
Carol Kim serves as political director for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and director of community engagement for its Family Housing Corporation.
The daughter of Korean immigrant parents and a UCLA graduate, Kim began her career as a classroom teacher in an inner city school in Los Angeles. Her years as a teacher were followed by several more working in HIV prevention, where she served high-risk groups including active and recovering substance users, adolescents in the foster care and judicial systems, LGBTQ communities, as well as communities of color. The following eight years were spent as a Research Associate for an education research, development and service nonprofit.
San Diego Native Elvin Lai is a fourth generation owner-operator of the 72-room Ocean Park Inn hotel in Pacific Beach since 2003. He is president of the San Diego County Hotel and Motel Association, board chair of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, and past board member of both the San Diego Tourism Marketing District and the San Diego Tourism Authority. He is currently working on HOTELbeat.com, Abnormal Company Beer and Wine, and a restaurant called The Cork and Craft @ Abnormal.
Partnership Creates New Master’s
Program at San Diego State University
San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is partnering with Meeting Professionals International to create a new graduate degree in meeting and event management. The program will be the first of its kind in the United States and will target mid- and senior-level professionals in the field of meeting and event management.
Scheduled to launch in 2019, the master’s degree program will incorporate experiential learning, simulations and industry partner mentoring.
Newly Discovered Algorithm May Help
Scientists Monitor Wild Dolphin Populations
Scientists have developed a new algorithm that can identify distinct click patterns among millions of clicks in recordings of wild dolphins, whose communication serves as a sentinel of ocean ecosystem health.
This approach, presented in PLOS Computational Biology by Kaitlin Frasier of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues, could potentially help distinguish among dolphin species in the wild.
Frasier and her colleagues build autonomous underwater acoustic sensors called HARPs (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages) that can record dolphins’ echolocation clicks in the wild for over a year at a time. These instruments serve as non-invasive tools for studying many aspects of dolphin populations, including how they are affected by hazards such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural resource development, and climate change.
General Atomics Awarded Army
Contract for ARGOS Satellite System
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems has been awarded a Department of Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium contract from the Army for an ARGOS satellite system.
“Our team has demonstrated success in the rapid design, development, test, and launch of satellite systems like ARGOS,” said Nick Bucci, vice president for missile defense and space systems at General Atomics. “ARGOS will play an important role in delivering beyond the horizon assured communications for the Army Component and Combatant Commanders. A satellite-based system will provide assured communications for future warfighters whenever and wherever they need it.”
Chuck Matthews Receives 2017
Fran Aleshire Leadership Award
Chuck Matthews, director of the North Coastal and North Inland Regions for the county of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, has been honored with the Fran Aleshire Leadership Award for his outstanding leadership and regional involvement. The award was presented at the San Diego North Economic Development Council’s annual North County Business Breakfast on Dec. 6.
Matthews has more than 25 years of experience in the planning, management and delivery of health and social services in the public and private sectors. He has worked for nearly two decades for HHSA, where he is responsible for directing the development and implementation of regional strategies, programs and activities to ensure family and community health needs are met for San Diego County residents.
Under Matthews’ leadership, HHSA North County Regions has designated 98 organizations as official partners in Live Well San Diego, which is almost a third of the countywide total. Live Well San Diego promotes healthy, safe and thriving communities throughout the region.