Oxygen deprivation associated with preterm birth leaves telltale signs on the brains of newborns in the form of alterations to cerebellar white matter at the cellular and the physiological levels. Now, an experimental model of this chronic hypoxia reveals that those cellular alterations have behavioral consequences. Chronic sublethal hypoxia is associated with locomotor miscoordination and long-term cerebellar learning deficits in a clinically relevant model of neonatal brain injury, according to a study led by Children's National Health System researchers published online August 13, 2018 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Neonatal Brain Injury Causes Cerebellar Learning Deficits and Purkinje Cell Dysfunction.” Using high-tech optical and physiological methods that allow researchers to turn neurons on and off and an advanced behavioral tool, the research team finds that Purkinje cells fire significantly less often after injury due to perinatal hypoxia. However, an off-the-shelf medicine now used to treat epilepsy enables those specialized brain cells to regain their ability to fire, improving locomotor performance. Step out of the car onto the pavement, hop up to the level of the curb, stride to the entrance, and climb a flight of stairs. Or, play a round of tennis. The cerebellum coordinates such locomotor performance and muscle memory, guiding people of all ages as they adapt to a changing environment. "Most of us successfully coordinate our movements to navigate the three-dimensional spaces we encounter daily," says Vittorio Gallo, PhD, Children's Chief Research Officer and the study's senior author. "After children start walking, they also have to learn how to navigate the environment and the spaces around them." These essential tasks, Dr.
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