Neuromotor Systems

Course Aim

This course aims to provide an introductory-level overview of the structures and mechanisms underlying brain function in the context of generating and modulating physical movement of the body.

Course Description

The course will start from the mechanisms of animal movement, including the evolutionary, ecological and energetic aspects; we will explore the anatomical and mechanical features of the body machinery (such as muscles, bones and tendons) before investigating the structure and dynamic function of the neuronal circuits driving and controlling movements. We will thus examine neuronal function at various levels, allowing the students to familiarize themselves with many fundamental concepts of neuroscience; the theoretical lectures will be complemented by practical exercises where the students will study movement in themselves and their peers in the motion capture laboratory environment as well as with more classical approaches.

Course Contents

BLOCK 1 (4 weeks): The physical reality of movement
Environments, evolution and fitness
Movement styles - running, flying, swimming
Mechanics of movement - forces, angles, timing
Body mechanics - muscles, bones, tendons

BLOCK 2 (5 weeks): Movement generation
Reflexes and drive in neuromuscular control
Principles of neuronal circuit function
Pattern generation in spinal systems
Ascending brainstem pathways - reflex modulation
Descending brainstem pathways - drive and modulation of locomotion

BLOCK 3 (4 weeks): Moving with purpose
Motor cortex - commanding descending pathways
Somatosensory cortex - monitoring movement
Adjusting movements - sensory feedback, cerebellar systems
Motor learning
Linking motor behavior to cognitive function


Participation and Discussion 40%; In-term exams 30%; Project work 30%

Prerequisites or Prior Knowledge

This is a basic level course, that will be adjusted accordingly to the interests of enrolled students. No prior knowledge assumed.

Reference Books

Biewener, A., Patek, S. Animal locomotion. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2018. (Available as an eBook in OIST library)
Principles of Neural Science, by Kandel, Schwartz, Jessell, Siegelbaum, Hudspeth (2012) MIT Press
Handbook of Brain Microcircuits, by Shepherd & Grillner (2010) Oxford University Press

Research Specialties