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"Our true sixth sense" on ARTE

Discover the work of the ISM, the LNSC and the LNC in this ARTE documentary!

Estimated reading time : 3 min

On Saturday, May 9, 2020, ARTE broadcasted the documentary “Notre véritable 6e sens” (Our true sixth sense) on proprioception. Three researchers from NeuroMarseille took part: Fabrice Sarlegna (ISM), Édith Ribot-Ciscar (LNSC) and Christine Assaiante (LNC).

Writing, standing, drinking a glass of water… So many actions that seem simple to carry out on a daily basis. All this is possible thanks to an essential but somewhat mysterious sense: proprioception. This sixth sense, of which we are not even aware, is the result of the thousands of sensors at the heart of our muscles. To be deprived of it would be to no longer perceive the position of our body in space.

In this documentary, director Vincent Amouroux explores this sense that is essential to the coordination of our movements and our balance. We follow a multitude of protagonists, from a patient who has lost proprioception due to a neuropathy, to the pilots of the Patrouille de France, to a dance company.

The research carried out at NeuroMarseille is widely promoted. Within the Institute of Movement Sciences (ISM), Fabrice Sarlegna (CNRS, Aix-Marseille University) has been working for about ten years with Ginette, who has been deprived of her proprioceptive sensitivity following an autoimmune disease. Only five people in the world are in the same case. Ginette’s participation in the studies conducted at the ISM therefore makes it possible to study the mechanisms involved and to advance research.

Meanwhile, Édith Ribot-Ciscar (INSERM, Aix-Marseille University), from the Sensory and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory (LNSC), studies proprioception according to electrophysiological criteria, using microneurography. Thanks to a microelectrode, it intercepts the electrical impulses generated by the nerve fibres that run along our limbs. These fibres, found in our muscles, are connected to the proprioception sensors and transmit the signals they receive. It’ s when our brain processes these nerve messages that we have access to this sense.

Finally, the documentary addresses another function of proprioception: body schema. This is the field of study of Christine Assaiante (CNRS, Aix-Marseille University) at the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience (LNC). The body schema is the image we have of our body in space. It’s by using proprioceptive data that we have this global awareness of our body and its movements.

The interviews of our researchers are mixed with staged performances, choreographed by Yoann Bourgeois, which illustrate this lesser-known sense. Discover the complete documentary (in French), mixing science and art, online until July 7, 2020 on ARTE.tv. 

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