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J Neurophysiol. 2011 May;105(5):2297-308. doi: 10.1152/jn.00385.2010. Epub 2011 Mar 9.

Electrical stimulation of the sural cutaneous afferent nerve controls the amplitude and onset of the swing phase of locomotion in the spinal cat.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, College of Medicine, Drexel University, 2900 W. Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129, USA.


Sensory feedback plays a crucial role in the control of locomotion and in the recovery of function after spinal cord injury. Investigations in reduced preparations have shown that the locomotor cycle can be modified through the activation of afferent feedback at various phases of the gait cycle. We investigated the effect of phase-dependent electrical stimulation of a cutaneous afferent nerve on the locomotor pattern of trained spinal cord-injured cats. Animals were first implanted with chronic nerve cuffs on the sural and sciatic nerves and electromyographic electrodes in different hindlimb muscles. Cats were then transected at T12 and trained daily to locomote on a treadmill. We found that electrical stimulation of the sural nerve can enhance the ongoing flexion phase, producing higher (+129%) and longer (+17.4%) swing phases of gait even at very low threshold of stimulation. Sural nerve stimulation can also terminate an ongoing extension and initiate a flexion phase. A higher prevalence of early switching to the flexion phase was observed at higher stimulation levels and if stimulation was applied in the late stance phase. All flexor muscles were activated by the stimulation. These results suggest that electrical stimulation of the sural nerve may be used to increase the magnitude of the swing phase and control the timing of its onset after spinal cord injury and locomotor training.

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