Neurobiology of Motor Actions – Abdel El Manira group

We are interested in understanding the complex processes by which the brain translates intentions into actions. Our particular focus lies on investigating neural circuits within the brainstem and spinal cord, which play a pivotal role in generating movements such as those enabling us to walk or run.

Our research

The goal of our research is to decipher the organizational logic together with the intricate coding and processing that allow the spinal network to produce locomotor movements with varying speed and force. To achieve this, our laboratory has pioneered the use of the adult zebrafish, which lends itself to a detailed experimental analysis using a variety of state-of-the-art tools.

Thus far, our studies have revealed the organization and pattern of recruitment of moto­neurons and excitatory interneurons during swimming. Our recent results show that motoneurons are divided into four distinct pools with a somatotopic organization in the motor column depending on the type of muscle they innervate. These motoneuron pools repre­sent discrete modules that are deployed incrementally with increasing swimming speed.

In addition, we have identified a class of excitatory interneurons as the substrate for the excitatory drive that endows the spinal network with the capacity to generate swimming.

Finally, we have uncovered a novel principle of organization of the spinal locomotor network consisting of ensembles of microcircuits that act as an intrinsic gearshift. Each micro­circuit encompasses a subset of motoneurons and excitatory interneurons that are incrementally recruited to increase the swimming speed.

Image: Abdel El Manira

Thus, novel insights into the principles governing locomotor microcircuits organization and function are beginning to emerge from our studies that may have general implications beyond the study of circuits for motor behavior.

Principles governing recruitment of neurons during locomotion. At slow swimming speeds only slow microcircuits activating slow muscles are recruited. Fast microcircuits are deployed with increased speed and activate fast muscles.


Selected publications

All publications from group members

Staff and contact

Group leader

All members of the group

Contact and visit us

Contact information for the Abdel El Manira research group at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

Postal address

Department of Neuroscience
Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm

Visiting address (visitors, couriers, etc.)

Karolinska Institutet, Biomedicum, 4B
Solnavägen 9, SE-171 65 Solna

Delivery address (goods, parcels, etc.)

Tomtebodavägen 16, SE-171 65 Solna

Karolinska Institutet, Biomedicum, Solnavägen 9

Work with us

Postdoc positions

We are looking for new postdocs to join our lab.

Please send your inquiries by e-mail to Abdel El Manira ( and include a CV with publications and research experience as well as a brief outline of research interests.