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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Apr;107(8):2057-71. doi: 10.1152/jn.00865.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 21.

Motoneuronal and muscle synergies involved in cat hindlimb control during fictive and real locomotion: a comparison study.

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Dept. of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Drexel Univ. College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19129, USA.


We compared the activity profiles and synergies of spinal motoneurons recorded during fictive locomotion evoked in immobilized decerebrate cat preparations by midbrain stimulation to the activity profiles and synergies of the corresponding hindlimb muscles obtained during forward level walking in cats. The fictive locomotion data were collected in the Spinal Cord Research Centre, University of Manitoba, and provided by Dr. David McCrea; the real locomotion data were obtained in the laboratories of M. A. Lemay and B. I. Prilutsky. Scatterplot representation and minimum spanning tree clustering algorithm were used to identify the possible motoneuronal and muscle synergies operating during both fictive and real locomotion. We found a close similarity between the activity profiles and synergies of motoneurons innervating one-joint muscles during fictive locomotion and the profiles and synergies of the corresponding muscles during real locomotion. However, the activity patterns of proximal nerves controlling two-joint muscles, such as posterior biceps and semitendinosus (PBSt) and rectus femoris (RF), were not uniform in fictive locomotion preparations and differed from the activity profiles of the corresponding two-joint muscles recorded during forward level walking. Moreover, the activity profiles of these nerves and the corresponding muscles were unique and could not be included in the synergies identified in fictive and real locomotion. We suggest that afferent feedback is involved in the regulation of locomotion via motoneuronal synergies controlled by the spinal central pattern generator (CPG) but may also directly affect the activity of motoneuronal pools serving two-joint muscles (e.g., PBSt and RF). These findings provide important insights into the organization of the spinal CPG in mammals, the motoneuronal and muscle synergies engaged during locomotion, and their afferent control.

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