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Exploring the Neuromuscular Connection

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Associate Professor Monica Daley, along with Kiisa Nishikawa, her collaborator from Northern Arizona University, have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study muscle physiology and mechanical function. The goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of muscle function and animal locomotion and ultimately to advance the development of medical devices and clinical rehabilitation strategies.

“We are excited about the potential of this project to help us integrate understandings from molecular mechanisms of muscle to locomotor behaviors in real world conditions,” says Professor Daley.

Professor Daley is an experimental physiologist whose research investigates animal locomotion. Her work focuses primarily on bipedal locomotion and the integration of musculoskeletal and sensorimotor function to achieve movement. With the help of this new grant, Daley and Nishikawa seek to combine experimental techniques with innovative modeling approaches to develop new muscle models of function that explain muscle movement over a broad range of behaviors.

The study aims to:

· Test the ability of a muscle avatar approach to replicate steady and perturbed muscle responses;

· Determine if their muscle avatar system can quantitatively assess how intrinsic muscle properties and neural drive contribute to muscle stabilizing responses; and

· Compare alternative muscle models for their ability to predict muscle function during high strain and perturbed contractions.

The project and its novel approach should shed light on the mechanisms that determine how intrinsic muscle properties and neural activation work in tandem to control locomotion. Findings from the project could potentially translate into applications for human rehabilitation and the design and control of assistive technology such as prosthetics and exoskeleton devices.

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