Neuromotor Plasticity and Development (NeuroPAD)
The Neuromotor Plasticity and Development (NeuroPAD) group researches the way that the brain, nerves and muscles create and control movement in the human body.
There are two major aims of the research. Firstly, the group is interested in how the early environment (both during pregnancy and after birth) influences development of the motor areas of the brain, and how this affects neurologic function, learning and memory during childhood and older age.
The second major aim is to develop new treatments that will rehabilitate impaired motor function in those suffering from brain injuries or altered brain development, such as stroke victims and preterm children.
There is emerging evidence that the motor regions of the brain contribute to much more than movement. For example, the group recently found that underdevelopment of the motor areas of the brain due to preterm birth appears to have a negative influence on the development of cognitive abilities, particularly those related to language comprehension, speech perception and working memory in children aged 11-12 years. Therefore, the work of NeuroPAD has already begun to extend to cognitive as well as motor development and function.
Importantly, our research in this area draws on the notion of neuroplasticity, a field pioneered by British physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington (1857-1952). He was one of the first to show that the motor cortex in the brain is not "hard-wired", but "plastic" and adaptable to change. We now know that neurons in the brain reorganise themselves according to new experiences, and that the act of thinking, acquiring new information, and undertaking physical tasks can alter the brain's structure and functions.
We are building on this knowledge to unravel the links between motor skills (controlled movement) and cognitive development (comprehension) in order to reverse motor abnormalities, and improve the quality of life of those suffering from motor dysfunction.
- Characterise the impact of preterm birth and/or low birth weight on neurophysiologic development of the motor system
- Characterise the impact of preterm birth and/or low birth weight on the development of motor skills and cognitive abilities
- Characterise the impact of preterm birth and/or low birth weight on neuromotor plasticity
- Examine genetic influences on neuromotor development
- Develop effective experimental techniques for inducing functionally beneficial plasticity
- Characterise the impact of general anaesthesia on the motor systems of children