Moving from simple to complex

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Neuronal Control of Locomotion: From Mollusc to Man

Oxford University Press: 1999. 322 pp. £49.50

The triumvirate of Orlovsky, Deliagina and Grillner is uniquely placed to produce a unified account of the neural basis of locomotion across the whole animal kingdom. Their collective experience in the field of locomotor control spans more than 30 years. All have made major contributions to understanding the control of movement in the cat, before moving to simpler preparations in search of more detailed understanding.

In surveying this vast field, the authors systematically describe the mechanisms underlying locomotion in a range of invertebrate and lower vertebrate preparations, moving to a detailed account of mammalian locomotion. The book's great strength is that, for each preparation, it starts with the basics and leads the reader to a fairly good understanding at the levels of systems and networks. By drawing parallels and contrasts between work done in different preparations and contexts, the authors avoid compartmentalizing the field. For example, they highlight the parallels between the mammalian and arthropod limb controllers, and describe clearly the problems of effective locomotion and the strategies used by the nervous system to overcome them.

There is a lack of simple diagrams that would have made some ideas more accessible. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book for those seeking wide background knowledge of neural mechanisms underlying movement. Those already in the field will also find it valuable. At times, however, there is a lack of balance. Perhaps understandably, the authors' own work receives detailed treatment. But this comes at the price of incomplete coverage of more recent developments in neuromodulation and the contribution of ion channels to network function. The chapters on mammalian locomotion concentrate almost exclusively on the cat, with only a passing mention of findings in the rat. The mouse and rat will surely be important models in the post-genomic era, and deserve fuller treatment.

Nevertheless, while it is easy to criticize the difficult choices inherent in writing this book, the authors have succeeded in illustrating the progress that has been made by studying simple systems, and how this illuminates the principles underlying locomotion in more complex animals, including man.

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Dale, N. Moving from simple to complex. Nature 402, 726 (1999) doi:10.1038/45387

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