woman joggingSensory perception and movement seem to be related—how would you know where to move if you could not see where you were going? Despite this apparently natural pairing, scientists are still working out how the brain coordinates vision and motion. Researchers from the University of Oregon conducted a study with mice to determine how brain signals work for sensory processing and active movement like running. They find a relationship between visual perception and movement. Although the study was not conducted in humans, the results suggest that movement and sensory processing may have a strong relationship in the human brain as well.

The research team built on a previous study demonstrating that when mice run, there is a change in their brain signals, indicating a link between body movement and visual perception. In the present study, the researchers searched for the mechanism linking movement and vision. They focused on a part of the brain called the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR), which controls running and other physical activities. Using light-activated, genetically sensitized neurons in the mice’s MLRs, the researchers observed the mice’s response to light in the visual cortex.

Stimulating the MLR elicited both a response in the visual cortex and caused the mice to run. Christopher Niell, biology professor and senior study author, states “We found that running turned up the magnitude in the mouse’s visual cortex by about two-fold—the signals were basically twice as strong when the mouse was running.” The researchers also found that it was possible to stimulate a response in the mice’s visual cortex without inducing running. This means that even though the impulse to run and to respond more rapidly to visual stimuli work together, they are spurred by separate signals.

These findings could help explain how active movement can impact sensory processing. Researchers are not certain whether humans experience heightened visual perception when running. However, these findings contribute to evidence suggesting that movement and sensory processing are related in the brain.

This research is published in the journal Neuron.

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