Researchers at the Salk Institute have found where nerve signals are preprocessed to help the brain maintain balance on slippery surfaces. They think a group of nerves in the spinal cord called RORα serve as a link between the brain and the feet. Studies with mice showed that mice without the RORα nerves had trouble maintaining balance.
“We think these neurons are responsible for combining all of this information to tell the feet how to move,” says Steeve Bourane, a postdoctoral researcher in Goulding’s lab and first author on the new paper. “If you stand on a slippery surface for a long time, you’ll notice your calf muscles get stiff, but you may not have noticed you were using them. Your body is on autopilot, constantly making subtle corrections while freeing you to attend to other higher-level tasks.”